Get up to date with the latest UK politics odds as Boris Johnson comes under pressure to secure a Brexit trade and security deal says Max Liu...
Theatre is one area where Britain is truly world-beating but, for obvious reasons, audiences have had little to cheer this year. There is certainly a theatrical element, however, to the way Boris Johnson and his European Union counterparts are conducting the Brexit deal negotiations.
The problem is that, while some of the principal actors may be revelling in their roles, few members of the audience are enjoying the drama after the talks reached deadlock on Saturday. They will resume today as negotiators try to thrash out a deal before the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.
Johnson and the European commission president Ursula von der Leyen took over the talks after the two chief negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier, failed to reach an agreement this week. After talking to Johnson on Saturday, Von der Leyen implied that little progress had been made:
I had a phone call with @BorisJohnson on the EU-UK negotiations.? Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 5, 2020
Differences remain. No agreement feasible if these are not resolved. Chief negotiators will reconvene tomorrow. We will speak again on Monday. https://t.co/fsVtfW0HHh
The Brexit drama has been running for four-and-a-half years and several scenes reached exhilarating climaxes. Three years ago this weekend, for example, Theresa May flew to Brussels at 3am to seal the Brexit divorce deal that paved the way for trade talks to begin. May was hailed, albeit briefly, for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It will be no surprise at all if the UK and EU reach a last minute agreement this time, although the relief will be greater as the stakes are higher.
The EU needs a deal that will leave its integrity intact. On the Exchange it is 1.141/7 that no country will follow Britain and invoke Article 50 - the mechanism for leaving the EU - before 2022. It's the same odds that no country will hold an in-out referendum, like the one Britain held in 2016, in the next two years.
That is exactly how Brussels wants it to be and, for that reason, they will balance the importance of striking a deal with Britain with the importance of showing that members cannot leave the EU and retain all the benefits that come with membership.
Emmanuel Macron, who is 1.9520/21 to win re-election as president of France in 18 months has warned EU colleagues against the dangers of agreeing a bad deal and threatened to veto any such agreement.
Brexiteers are watching Johnson closely
Johnson, meanwhile, wants to show Britain and the Conservative Party that he will not fold in the face of the EU's demands. If he's perceived to have given too much ground then he will be castigated by the European Research Ghouls (sorry, European Research Group) and odds of 2.8615/8 on him leaving office next year will shorten.
This time last year, let's remember, Britons were days from giving Johnson's Tories an 80-seat majority after he said his government had an 'oven-ready deal' with the EU and vowed to get Brexit done.
At the end of a gruelling year, during which his popularity has slumped, the Sportsbook market on Johnson's December approval rating reflects the knife-edge position of the negotiations with the EU. In last month's poll, 34% said Johnson was doing well as prime minister. It's 5/6 that the figure will be 36% or lower this month and the same odds for 37% or higher.
This weekend's Westminster voting intention polling shows just how tight things are for the government right now.
The Tories lead Labour by 20 points in the spring but the parties are neck-and-neck over all now, with Opinium putting Labour ahead by two points this weekend and Savanta giving the Conservatives a one point advantage.
On the Exchange no over all majority at the next general election has shortened to 2.111/10 while the price on a Tory majority has drifted to 3.55/2 and Labour's chances are rated almost equal at 3.613/5. This month's Brexit drama finale will have a big impact on the outcome.