Come New Year’s Eve, the transition period between the United Kingdom and the European Union ends and, as things stand now with two weeks remaining, there is no deal on the future relationship between the two sides yet agreed. And time is running out.
Both Brussels and London had set last weekend as the deadline for reaching an agreement. That deal didn’t materialise, but crucially, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed that sufficient progress had been made to warrant the talks continuing. And that remains an optimistic sign.
There are three sticking points — fishing rights, ensuring a level playing field and governance — and these have yet to be resolved. As far as the deadline goes, it looks as if both sides are willing to allow for the status quo to continue past December 31 while a deal is being pursued.
Any deal will have to be ratified by the European Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Parliament, each of the 27 individual member states that make up the EU, along with the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the UK, and the regional assemblies in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. And that will take time.
Effectively extending the transition period into the new year, as is likely to informally happen while any likely deal goes through the approvals process, is a pragmatic solution to a difficult economic and political problem.
But as things stand now after months of on-and-off again negotiations, punctuated by the pandemic, something needs to give to break the deadlock in the talks. Most of the outstanding issues between the EU and the UK have been cleared in a document that covers some 600 pages and ticks the boxes on 95 per cent of the future relationship.
Any Brexit agreement will require compromise. This is not a matter of economics now, but one of politics. Political leadership is about making difficult choices at times. Compromise means giving a little, getting a little. And that element of compromise seems to be missing right now if a deal is to be reached.
Clearly, by agreeing to talk and talk, both sides are anxious to ensure that a deal will be done. That’s the positive news. The negative is that so far, that deal has been elusive. Who then will be prepared to give ground, just a little, to avoid the dangerous pitfall of no deal?