The current Brussels summit was supposed to have been the occasion where the Brexit divorce deal would be struck, widely described as a “moment of truth” when an agreement had to be reached to give time for ratification before Britain’s departure from the European Union on March 29 next year.
But the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier dashed any lingering hopes that an agreement could be reached this week as he arrived at the summit telling reporters “much more time” is required.
The main sticking point remains the so-called ‘backstop’, an insurance policy to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit. But with strong disagreement on how this would work and how long it should be in place, the prospect of a no deal Brexit is looming ever larger.
Germany and France have started to reveal details of their no deal preparations, which in the latter case could see the restoration of customs checks and health inspections for animals at French ports, and even a requirement for Britons to seek visas for stays of three months or more.
Prime Minister Theresa May will find out today how successful she has been in clearing her first major obstacle to avoiding such a scenario after addressing leaders of the remaining 27 EU states last night on how she sees the way forward before they discussed their response in her absence.
Even if she has done enough to convince her European counterparts that a satisfactory agreement is possible, her next challenge in getting any deal past an increasingly-sceptical Parliament will surely prove even more testing. As Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel put it: “Having an agreement here doesn’t mean there will be an agreement in Westminster.”
The moment of truth may have been delayed, but its arrival cannot be put off indefinitely.