Brexit Bowl – July 2018
Despite the summer sun, the mood in Brussels remains overcast and gloomy. Last week’s Council meeting was originally supposed to witness a final Brexit agreement, outlining the UK’s terms of withdrawal from the EU. Not so.
The lack of progress in the negotiations is best highlighted by the fact that Brexit was not a major subject of conversation. European leaders have other pressing issues which require more urgent care and attention. Brexit has been pushed to the margins lately, with the EU prioritising issues around immigration (notably with the new Italian populist government, and Conte attending his first summit as Italian PM) and the trade tariff dispute with the Trump administration, best summed up in the G7 fiasco in Canada.
With 29 March 2019 getting ever closer, earlier expectations were that both sides would have most of the details wrapped up by now. However, “huge and serious” differences remain according to Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator. While his priority since Article 50 was triggered has been the Withdrawal Agreement, not the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the two main issues causing most concern remain the future customs relationship and complex and sensitive issues associated with the Irish border.
The lack of substantive progress with the UK to date is frustrating the other EU27 members given the need for Europe to get on with its day to day priorities. Unity within the EU27 remains strong and expected divisions have yet to appear. Most of the focus continues to be an internal UK one, both within the UK Government and between Government and Parliament. Until the negotiations on the withdrawal issues are finalised (including finding solutions to Ireland and perhaps even Gibraltar), don’t expect anyone to break cover soon.
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