Given that the Boris-Ursula dinner date didn’t go so well, and that neither side has (at least publicly) shifted their negotiating remit or “red lines”, it may be a mystery as to why the UK-EU talks are staggering on into the weekend – and possibly longer. Despite the fact that, in their separate statements, Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen indicated a decision would be made soon (“the end of the weekend” for Johnson, “Sunday” for von der Leyen), the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab tellingly left the door open for them to continue even longer. Raab said the trade talks were “unlikely” to go beyond Sunday, but how many “unlikely” things have happened in the past year? After all it is only a year since the British election campaign when Johnson declared there was “zero chance” of a “no-deal Brexit”.
One obvious reason for the continuing willingness to go over the same old arguments is that, as Johnson says “hope springs eternal”, and there is much at stake. Another is that both sides are terrified of getting the blame for ultimate failure, and both are going out of their way to sound reasonable. Both agree compromise on both sides is needed. Both repeat they want a deal, “but not at any price”, most recently restated by Angela Merkel. Both carefully refer to the other side as “our friends”. Both sides, in fact, have their own political pressures and have no wish to add to their problems by seeming to be responsible for a historic “failure of statecraft”, in the prime minister’s terms.
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