There are but three months or so left for officials from the United Kingdom to reach an agreement with their counterparts in Brussels on leaving the European Union, but there seems to be a dawning reality growing by the day that the Brexit saga may very well end without any such settlement. And that would be the worst of both worlds, with World Trade Organisation rules coming into effect, with British manufacturers and businesses facing higher costs, delays, and uncertainties, and with the EU27 trying to reach practical agreements on a whole range of day-to-day and strategic matters with an estranged and isolated administration in London.
For the past year, Brexit negotiations have been hamstrung by a series of red lines laid down by the government of Prime Minister Theresa May, and she too has been working against a political backdrop largely of her own making — a divided cabinet, a weakened and compromised position in parliament, and a Conservative party beholden to a hard Brexit element that has led the debate from the onset.
Her attempts to reach a consensus position at Chequers earlier this month was an abject failure, exposing the Brexit divisions within her cabinet and threatening her leadership. Indeed, she had adopted positions anew that have been rejected months ago by Brussels, and she is back-pedalling on an agreed backstop position on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south. Given all of this, should we be surprised that the no-deal Brexit seems a very real probability? Not at all, which is why it would be now prudent for all parties to prepare fully for this worst outcome. Time is ticking very quickly.