UK Politics: Brexit deal seems out of reach for May

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Concerns about the UK leaving the EU without any deal in place are increasing.
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Theresa May is still struggling to reach a Brexit deal that is agreed by the EU. The Tradefair team brings you the latest from UK politics...

"I think what's more likely is that dates will be suggested, but that there won't be a commitment to a new summit unless there is a signal from the negotiating teams that there is something to sign off on."

- Simon Coveney, Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland.

Most people are sick of hearing about Brexit, and no one can be more tired of it than Theresa May. For months, the UK Prime Minister has been trying to find common ground with the EU that could bring them closer to a deal. But her efforts are seemingly going down like a lead balloon, with an agreement looking far out of reach.

There was faint optimism about progress earlier in the month, when Jean-Claude Juncker,
President of the European Commission, suggested that Brussels was close to a deal.

Speaking to a number of Austrian newspapers, he said: "I have reason to think that the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days." Though in the same interview, he did recognise that negotiators were "not there yet".

This seems to be quite the understatement, as May looks further away from a deal than ever.

The Irish border problem

Reports suggest that it's the issue of how to prevent a hard Irish border after the UK withdraws that it proving to be the biggest sticking point. The Prime Minister has refused the idea of having any physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but has also rejected the possibility of Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union after Brexit.

This leaves quite the problem. With the Republic of Ireland remaining in the EU and Northern Ireland withdrawing, there's a major issue about how goods could pass between EU and non-EU states. Few are keen to introduce any kind of hard border as it could jeopardise decades of progress that has been made in the Northern Ireland peace process.

But with the Prime Minister ruling out the possibility of Belfast remaining in the bloc, it seems that they're running out of options, which has caused negotiations to stall.

Speaking in Brussels this week, May has said "intensive" work needs to be done to overcome these differences but was keen to note that "considerable progress" had been made recently.

However, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani said the Prime Minister had offered nothing "substantially new in terms of content".

Is the UK any closer to a deal?

Although both sides have said they are keen to reach a deal, it's clear that the EU has much less to lose. The UK has decided to leave the bloc and it's the one that has more to gain by negotiating a trade deal after Brexit. Because of this, preparations have started from both parties to plan for a no-deal scenario.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is herself setting the groundwork for no deal being organised, said there was still time to arrive at a "good and sustainable Brexit deal".

Because of the lack of substantial progress, the Prime Minister has now revealed that she would be willing to lengthen the transitional period, which was agreed to help make the withdrawal easier for people who may be affected. During this time, the UK will have to abide by EU laws but have no influence over them.

However, May said this concession would only see the UK's official cutoff delayed by a few months.

Reports suggest that the longer transitional period could increase the cost of the "divorce bill" by millions.

Yesterday's (October 17) meeting of the European Council had been seen as the point when the remaining 27 EU member states would approve a special summit in November, which would finalise the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the EU. It's understood that not enough progress has been made for Brussels to go ahead with this plan and there are now suggestions that this summit will be used to discuss a no-deal scenario instead.

Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said: "I think what's more likely is that dates will be suggested, but that there won't be a commitment to a new summit unless there is a signal from the negotiating teams that there is something to sign off on."

'Too weak and divided'?

Labour has criticised the government, saying it is "too weak and too divided" to reach an agreement with Brussels. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn even said that May's Chequers plan was "dead".

The continuing problems of arriving at an agreement with the EU is putting pressure on Britain to provide some reassurance to businesses that will be affected by Brexit. However, this has been almost non-existent in the time since June 2016.

Until there are some solid conclusions from negotiations, investors are likely to be nervous about making any significant decisions. The erratic behaviour of UK inflation, as well as troubling global stock market performance, will do little to soothe concerns either.

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