12 Sep 2019

Barnier: No reasons for optimism on deal

Michel Barnier has done his best to hose down expectations of any breakthrough on a revised Brexit deal ahead of October 31st. Unusually, he’s released his speaking notes from a Brexit update chat he regularly gives to a group of MEPs. While some in Whitehall are saying they think the likelihood of a deal is rising, Michel Barnier said in Brussels today: “at this precise moment we do not have any reason to be optimistic.”

He said the EU was still waiting for the UK’s proposals. Whitehall is trying to judge the right moment to table something (if and when it is formed). Too early, and it can be taken apart by the EU. Too late, and you’ve run out of time for proper consideration.

Michel Barnier confirmed that the UK is asking for the Political Declaration document to be pared back so it states “without ambiguity that the final destination must be a Free Trade Agreement and under no circumstances a Customs Union.” He emphasised that the EU “would have a problem if… the British wish to put in doubt the agreement on a level playing field that we have negotiated with Mrs May and which guarantees trust between the the EU and the UK.”

Back over in Whitehall, you find sources close to the talks suggesting the chances of a breakthrough have risen to 33%, with no-deal Brexit and a Brexit delay also about 33% each. It’s a view echoed by some in the DUP. The respected Charles Grant gives a similar view on Twitter.

One No. 10 source said the focus of work in the building had shifted significantly since MPs passed a bill instructing the PM to sign a letter requesting a Brexit delay if he’s got no deal by the end of the October European Council. There is “much more focus” on a deal, the source said, saying “it feels like Dom [Cummings] has moved to a new decision tree.”

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