Front Bench: A Brexit breakthrough on transition could be on the way, if Paris and Berlin don't scupper it

Daniel Capurro
Michel Barnier and David Davis are set to meet again today - Getty Images Europe

 Today's Front Bench focuses on Jeremy Corbyn's response to the Salisbury poisoning.  A sample of the email is below. If you like what you see, sign up here. Don't forget to vote in the poll and leave your reasoning in the comments below. The best responses will feature in this afternoon's Brexit Briefing.

During the two weeks of wall to wall coverage of the Russian spy poisoning, there’s been nary a squeak on Brexit. A welcome relief, you might argue. But that should all change this morning. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, is in Brussels to meet his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, and hopefully, if all goes to plan, finalise a transition deal. If that happens, expect an announcement not long after that lunch.

And if not?

Unless that is, things don’t go to plan. As the Financial Times has it “both sides recognise that for a ‘pre-cooked’ deal to be presented to EU leaders on Thursday, the final text will have to be signed off by Tuesday evening at the latest”. Yet as Front Bench discussed on Friday, the Irish border still hasn’t gone away, and it could kill any deal this week.

Reaching a deal this month is crucial. Private sector companies concerned by Brexit have March as their deadline for contingency planning, and if no transition deal is in place then their plans will have to be based on no transition at all.

If that is the case, then the transition deal loses rather a lot of its value to the UK. This would suggest that the EU has all the power right now. But Brussels is aware that such a scenario would be painful for EU countries too and wants a deal. This time, however, it is Berlin and Paris pushing a hardline and UK officials reportedly fear they may use the Irish border to delay a transition deal.

Your finest fudge, please

In the absence of a breakthrough, what’s needed is a decent fudge. Politico reports that one is being considered: the transition period would be agreed in principle, which would be “contingent on an acceptable solution to the Irish border issue in the final withdrawal agreement”.

If that doesn’t work, however, there’s very little obvious way forward. Negotiations would instead end up back at the same old impasse, with the EU demanding that Britain agree to the “backstop” which would see Northern Ireland remain in “full alignment” and the UK insisting that a technological solution is possible. If a deal doesn’t happen quickly, it will also be rather painful for Downing Street.

Britain has made multiple concessions to achieve a transition deal, dropping most of its key demands. Indeed, Theresa May went as far as to agree that effectively nothing will change with regards to EU immigration to Britain during the transition, and those that arrive during the period will have the same rights as those who were there before.

There don’t appear to be any concessions left for the Government to make that don’t involve fundamentally changing the nature of the Brexit they have chosen to pursue.

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