15 Oct 2018

Brexit: Is December now the new deadline?

Leo Varadkar has just told press he always thought talk of a deal now was a bit optimistic and said “November/December is probably the best opportunity for a deal.” It’s the first time the “D” word, for December, has been used in a while. If that meant agreement was reached at the European Council 13/14 December it would be a tall order to get the “deal or no deal” vote through before the Christmas recess. The Commons is not meant to be back until 7 January after the Christmas break though that can always change with an earlier recall. The government plan was originally to rollout arguments for a week after any deal was struck and then allow the best part of 4/5 days for MPs’ debate ahead of the critical vote.

One prominent Brexiteer MP said: “Well that’s a recipe for no deal. Fine. Forty ERG can live with that.”

But some whips have long thought that the later the vote happens the better. Their logic runs that you have to have MPs peering over the cliff edge to burn off softer rebels.

What has actually changed to make the summit on Wednesday look less like a moment a deal will be crunched?

It sounds like the EU27 have pretty much stuck to their script, it’s just that the UK government, under pressure from Tories and the DUP, has reassessed what it needs to win a vote.  Talk this morning of how the EU had popped up with a “backstop to the backstop” seems to be a reference to the EU/UK December 2017 agreement which was hardened into the March 2018 EU27 legal text and is currently being “de-dramatised” by Michel Barnier’s team.

Michel Barnier was caught on camera in Brussels this lunchtime telling reporters to “be patient.” Dominic Raab’s visit to Brussels yesterday may have tested Mr Barnier’s patience. It’s not clear it didn’t test No.10’s too. Despite a prompt but highly unusual joint “DEXEU / No 10 spokesperson” statement being hurried out last night, rumours persist that the trip to Brussels was an inititiative that started with Mr Raab not with Mrs May.

Steve Baker, the former DEXEU minister, who resigned alongside David Davis after the Chequers approach to Brexit was agreed, has messaged ERG colleagues (see @Peston) that this pause in the talks is “synthetic” and “must be called out.”  The PM speaks to MPs at 3.30.

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