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Despite Brexit Ultimatums, U.K. and EU Lurch Toward a Deal

Just as the U.K.’s trade negotiations with the European Union look like they’re heading off a cliff, there’s reason to suspect things might not be as bleak as they seem. On the surface, the brinkmanship is clear: On Tuesday, the EU dared Boris Johnson to walk away from the talks by his Oct. 15 deadline if he views a deal as impossible. The very next day, Johnson’s government said it fully intends to do just that, if that’s what it concludes.

That followed weeks in which statements from both sides have barely gone beyond reiterating the need to keep trying because the gulf between them remains huge. On Wednesday, EU Council President Charles Michel urged the U.K. to “put its cards on the table.”

Yet, in private, officials are more upbeat. While the politics are inescapable — and may yet be definitive — experienced negotiators know that sometimes the worst moments happen shortly before an accord is struck. They recall Johnson’s telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in October 2019, which prompted one U.K. government insider to brief that, because of her intransigence, a deal on the country’s withdrawal from the EU was effectively impossible. One was done nine days later.

The two sides are now trying to reach an accord not only on their future trade relationship, but also on a range of issues from co-operation on law enforcement to transport. Failure to reach an agreement by the time U.K. leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on Dec. 31 would leave businesses grappling with tariffs, costs and disruption at the border.

Despite Brexit Ultimatums, U.K. and EU Lurch Toward a Deal, Bloomberg, Oct 8

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