Will it all be over by Christmas? Either way, it looks probable that by then we will have to know if it is to be a hard or soft Brexit.
By the time David Davis wishes his counterpart, EU negotiator Michel Barnier, “un Joyeux Noël” – if he can bring himself to – the world will know whether there is to be a hard Brexit or some form of exit from the European Union that will be less ruinous than that.
Well, they say miracles happen at Christmas.
Given the shortness of the deadlines, and, crucially, the need for the UK to construct a customs bureaucracy and otherwise plan for a move to World Trade Organisation rules, a decision on the outcome must be made, practically, by the time of the EU summit in December. We will then have, as business and everyone else apparently wishes, “certainty”.
Certain catastrophe, in fact.
There was little attempt on the part of Mr Davis or Mr Barnier, a double act with two straight men, to disguise the extent of the gulf between them. Nor was there any need for Mr Barnier to labour the point that it is the EU that possesses most of the leverage in this tussle. It is for him to propose to the European Council that the talks have made sufficient progress and therefore future trading arrangements can be discussed. It is for the European Council and, in due course, the European Parliament to approve the eventual deal on trade, if there is to be one. They are not required to approve “no deal”.
If Michel Barnier and the EU are being “unreasonable”, “arrogant” or “foolish” then so what? There is not a single thing the British can do about it except splutter and wallow in the purple prose of the Eurosceptic press. Cold comfort that will prove pointless when the car factories start closing.
The “Brexit now” school of British thought, if that’s not too grand a term for it, believes that the EU needs the UK more than the UK needs the EU; that walking away now would show the bloc that the…