After three years of gridlock triggered by the divisions brought on by the Brexit vote of 2016, the Queen has repeated the Prime Minister’s pledge to leave the European Union on October 31st.
In the monarch’s much-anticipated speech, the Government’s plans to introduce a withdrawal agreement bill and secure its passage through parliament before the Halloween deadline were defined as an over-riding priority. This of course depends on whether a deal can be struck over the course of this critical week in the Brexit process.
Following on from what looked to be a promising meeting between the UK Prime Minister and his Irish counterpart last week, the two agreed that there was indeed a “pathway to a possible Brexit deal”.
For a summit that was tipped to end in a breakdown, the outcome has restored hope and painted an optimistic picture of the future – but what does a pathway to a deal mean in practice?
While Brexit talks are at least alive, a Brexit deal would still require the acceptance of all veto players in the process: the EU, Ireland, UK parliament, the Conservative party, the European Research Group and the Democratic Unionist party.
Though cautious, Ireland’s foreign minister repeated that a prompt and suitable agreement was not out of the realms of possibility during a meeting with EU foreign ministers on Monday morning:
“A deal is possible, and it is possible this month, maybe even this week but we are not there yet,” Simon Coveney said.
Although the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he believed the outline of a deal would be ready in time for this week, he also admitted to reporters his fear that it could be another false dawn, commenting on the challenges ahead and remarking that there was “many a slip between cup and lip”.
According to the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, the two key sticking points that still stand in the way of a favourable Brexit deal are customs and consent. It is believed that a deal would require compromise, either with the UK accepting that Northern Ireland should remain part of the EU’s customs union or Brussels and Dublin dropping concerns about the impact of an open border to the single market.
Barnier has made clear his intention to secure the Brexit deal with Britain by the end of the day, setting The Prime Minister a midnight deadline to concede to EU demands and agree to a customs border in the Irish sea or be left with nothing to take to the commons. Following Barnier’s briefing to EU ministers, Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn said:
“There is some optimism, he is trying for a deal tonight … Otherwise, we will most probably need another summit later this month.”
It’s clear that if he is to avoid asking for an extension and successfully take the UK out of the EU on October 31st, The Prime Minister must use this critical time to build on the progress that has been made in negotiations.