Yet another Brexit trade-deal deadline is about to be blown, as PM Boris Johnson and the EU27 contemplate an extension, the latest sign that talks will inevitably go down to the wire as the UK is set to complete its departure from the EU on Jan. 1.
British Environment Secretary George Eustice said Sunday it might be possible to “squeeze out extra time” if the two sides were close to an agreement. And although the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost said on Sunday that he was heading back to Brussels for more talks with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, he insisted that the UK “will not be changing its position” in the coming talks, as BoJo continues his heavy-handed push to force the EU to cave on issues from fisheries access, to Brussels’ demands for a “level playing field”, to the powers of the European Court of Justice.
Frost added in a string of tweets that while there has been “some progress” during the latest round of talks, it’s still extremely possible that “we may not succeed” in striking a mutually agreeable deal. At this point, even the BBC has pointed out that whatever deal does come to pass will be minimal.
“Arriving once again in Brussels shortly for another round of negotiations with EU and @MichelBarnier this afternoon. I and our British🇬🇧 team have been in talks almost every day since 22 October.
We are working to get a deal, but the only one that’s possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters. That has been our consistent position from the start and I will not be changing it.
There has been some progress in a positive direction in recent days. We also now largely have common draft treaty texts, though significant elements are of course not yet agreed. We will work to build on these and get an overall agreement if we can.
But we may not succeed. Either way, as the Prime Minister @BorisJohnson made clear on 16 October, people and businesses must prepare for the change that is coming on 31 December, most of which happens whether there is a deal or not.
Now that the US election has passed, and Dominic Cummings has been booted from the government, Telegraph opinion writer Jeremy Warner suggested recently that a deal was now extremely likely. However, even with the deal, Britain’s exit from the EU is bound to be “shambolic,” since the coronavirus has delayed important infrastructure upgrades to the UK’s customs capabilities.
Deal or no deal, Britain’s final departure from the EU’s embrace on Jan 1 promises to be a shambolic nightmare from all I hear, threatening a surge in prices and the future of many smaller freight handlers.
The Government’s antiquated Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight system is struggling to cope with even its present workload, which will more than double once we leave.
This was meant to be replaced in March this year with a shiny new Customs Declaration Service, but inevitably the construct is long overdue. Government incompetence is not confined to test, track and isolate procedures, it would seem.
Industry insiders told a House of Lords committee hearing last week that there was “no realistic chance it would work” even for the limited purpose of trade with Northern Ireland, for which it is initially scheduled as a dress rehearsal for eventual wider use.
Apparently, one anonymous Tory MP confided in Warner that he was tired of Britons blaming Tories for not having a clear-cut Brexit plan.
“I’m sick to death with being lectured by the Government on how it is up to us to prepare, and it is all our fault if we are not ready,” one intermediary told me. “Prepare for what? Nobody has a clue.”
From what we can tell, that notion has yet to be internalized by Wall Street analysts, who are telling clients that a deal is virtually assured. Did they learn nothing from the original upset Brexit Referendum vote?