Within the sound of silence, progress?
Brexit negotiators have gone quiet on both sides – at least at their respective centres in London and Brussels. They are working behind the scenes to overcome differences on the outstanding hurdles to a Brexit deal and not revealing much on the state of negotiations prior to a critical European Council summit on 18 October. The EU delayed publishing the blueprint for a post-Brexit relationship with Britain today after signals of new concessions on the Irish backstop from Downing Street. The UK side is similarly silent. It too shelved a planned publication – of a likely controversial proposal on the Irish border – and a meeting between the two chief negotiators has been postponed, as the two sides burrow into the detail to clear the way for an easy summit next week. EU leaders, minus the UK, will be briefed Friday instead.
Factions flashing their warnings: the DUP
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on whom Prime Minister Theresa May relies to form a government, has threatened to vote down the Brexit deal and the upcoming budget if the presented solution introduces checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. DUP leader Arlene Foster has loudly and publicly insisted her party will not accept customs or regulatory checks on goods travelling in either direction between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. During a visit to Brussels, Foster offered May little succour in a crucial period of the negotiations and doubled down on her red lines that Northern Ireland could not be treated differently to the rest of the UK. The EU has tried its best to “de-dramatise” its proposal for the backstop, which would see Northern Ireland treated as a separate customs territory, but to little success so far.
And that November summit planted in the brain?
As Britain and the EU gear up for a crunch Brexit summit, EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier urged the bloc that “decisive progress” was needed in negotiations in time for the gathering, which will likely decide to hold an extraordinary summit in November. Even if goodwill and carefully-worded declarations mean that next week’s summit provides hope for a withdrawal deal, heralding a special November gathering that would sign it off, the difficult part for Theresa May would be to get that deal past the British parliament.