Brexit Bulletin: Delaying the Inevitable


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More than 18 months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, U.K. ministers were widely expected this week to finally agree on what kind of Brexit they want. In fact, they’re not even close, Tim Ross reports. 

The EU side is expecting an update Friday on the U.K.’s vision of the future relationship, but a senior U.K. official said ministers almost certainly won’t reach an agreement by then. The government’s final proposal for the type of customs arrangement it wants with its biggest trading partner after the split is far from ready, as a lot more technical work needs to be done.

Theresa May

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

In another worrying sign for business, the official said the March deadline to get the transition deal pinned down is now looking optimistic. (It’s worth remembering that Ian Wishart reported last week that officials on both sides were privately expressing concern that the March deadline might slip.)

Amid pressure from the euroskeptic wing of her party, Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to fight some of the EU’s conditions for the transition, and U.K. objections were raised on Tuesday in Brussels. 

As the debate on what a post-EU Britain ought to look like rages on in the ruling Conservative Party, further sessions of May’s so-called Brexit war cabinet are being lined up for next week. They could even continue into the following week if necessary, according to the official. The person declined to be identified because the talks are private.

Even when May’s ministers do agree on the broad outline for Britain’s ultimate ties to the EU, they won’t be close to finalizing the kind of customs arrangement that the government wants to have with Europe, the official said. That’s because the two options under consideration – a customs “partnership” or a “streamlined customs arrangement” – require much more technical work before they can be properly assessed.

May needs to be careful with the naming of any such arrangements as well as its consequences: She has promised euroskeptics that the U.K. is leaving the customs union and will be able to strike deals with other countries after the split.

Brexit Latest

More Money | The European Commission said the U.K. will be asked to make financial contributions after Brexit that could go beyond what was agreed last year, reports Bloomberg’s Nikos Chrysoloras, who saw a draft document on the EU’s stance on the transition period. While the extra liabilities are likely to be small because they’re for security and defense costs outside the regular budget, revisiting the financial settlement could add strain to already tense discussions.

More Fighting | The EU is threatening to suspend the U.K. from the benefits of the single market unilaterally if it breaks any rules during the transition period, the European Commission document showed. That’s not great news for businesses that want a transition precisely because it guarantees continued complete access to the single market. The U.K., meanwhile, has objected to seven aspects of the EU’s position on the transition period, Chrysoloras reports.

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