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Brexit: EU leaders believe new extension is 'likely'

September 27, 2019

 

 

In a Westminster-clad puff of smoke, any residual "maybes" about a new Brexit deal being agreed by mid-October have evaporated in Brussels.

 

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is well known here for having a coffee mug in his office emblazoned with "Keep Calm and Negotiate".

 

But although EU-UK technical talks have been carrying on at a low level this week, a diplomat from a key EU country described as "pretty much nil" the chances of getting a new deal done and dusted by the EU leaders' summit in a couple of weeks' time.

 

Mr Barnier repeated again on Thursday that UK ideas to date on how to replace the Irish border backstop have failed - in his opinion - to meet the EU criteria of safeguarding the Northern Ireland peace process and the single market. He said Boris Johnson's proposals might even require the EU to suspend its own rules.

 

While Downing Street insists their Brexit proposals are serious and that the onus is also on the EU make compromises, Brussels seems demotivated.

 

"Even if we manage to reach an agreement with (Boris) Johnson - which is an outside chance anyway," a diplomat from a southern European country told me me, "do we really think that the angry, divided House of Commons will approve a Johnson-brokered Brexit deal?"

 

The diplomat clearly didn't. And that's important. It means the EU believes there is no point compromising right now.

 

Brussels is also unconvinced that the prime minister is willing to make what they view as real compromises in negotiations. They think he wants to keep his hard Brexiteer credentials intact ahead of a general election.

 

So is the EU assuming that a no-deal Brexit is round the corner?

Not really. EU politicians now believe a new three-month Brexit extension is the most likely next step. And Boris Johnson is right. That belief does take the pressure off them somewhat. It's yet another factor deterring Brussels from offering significant compromises in current negotiations.

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