It is one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent political history. On Wednesday afternoon, the Brexit talks seemed pretty much dead—hence my piece in the magazine this week. Even the optimists in Downing Street were struggling to see anyway through. But by Friday lunchtime, the UK and the EU were agreeing to intensify negotiations as they searched for a deal.
As I say in The Sun this morning, the negotiations going on in Brussels this weekend are serious: they aren’t just for the show. This doesn’t, though, mean that a deal will definitely be done. But things are on the move.
Now, the sheer pace of this turnaround is a reason for caution. As one of those intimately involved with the negotiation on the UK side says, there are still ‘many hurdles’ to a deal. Even the few inside Downing Street who are in the loop admit that they don’t know whether this is a false dawn or not.
One source warns that ‘you can see where the problems are going to be’. I am, though, informed that the DUP—the Northern Irish party whose support is critical to any agreement—‘are in deal mode’.
Crucially, the European Commission is, for now, facilitating this progress towards an agreement. Rather than pulling things apart on technical level, it is letting the discussion run to see if a compromise can be reached.
It is too early though to start cooling the champagne. Reaching an agreement in principle will be easier than getting one in practise. One well briefed figure in government tells me that this is ‘the start of the process towards a deal, not the end game’.
There’s also the fact that any deal will require the EU and the Irish to accept getting less on Northern Ireland than they did under the backstop agreed by Theresa May.
No one want to be the party to collapse the talks. But the question is whether the current optimism can survive the talks moving from the big picture to the precise detail of how these new arrangements would work.
A few days ago, it looked like the only Brexit options were, no deal or no Brexit. But a deal is now back as an option. Whether it will take a general election to get there or not is another matter.
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