Inside Westminster

The reality of no trade deal with the EU is moving closer by the day – although Johnson may regret imposing such barriers

For this Vote Leave government, coronavirus might have a silver lining – amid all the pain, it could be a good year to cynically bury bad economic news, writes Andrew Grice

Friday 29 May 2020 18:00
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For the moment Boris Johnson is in a 'win, win' position – but that won't last for ever
For the moment Boris Johnson is in a 'win, win' position – but that won't last for ever

On Monday, about 100 officials from both London and Brussels will take part in a fourth round of negotiations on a UK-EU trade deal. Although it might seem like a sideshow given the coronavirus crisis, the session matters. Progress since the UK left the EU in January is virtually non-existent. “We are on different planets,” one EU official admits. A UK source agrees: “We are talking past each other.”

The need to video-conference hasn’t helped; no informal chats by the water-cooler to break the metaphorical ice. David Frost, Boris Johnson’s negotiator, has not had a “Zoom drink” with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, though Frost would be well-qualified as a former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association. Instead, they exchange frosty letters designed to make the other side look unreasonable to their domestic audience.

Left to their own devices, officials suspect they could strike a trade deal by the December deadline, when the transitional period ends and the UK will leave the single market and customs union. But they are staring at three big roadblocks, which only politicians can clear.

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