Richard North, 12/11/2020  

Speaking in Dublin, the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said he believed the two sides were reaching an "end game phase in terms of finding an agreement". He added: "Reaching an agreement in the coming weeks is very difficult but I also think it’s doable. No-deal is in nobody's interests".

Mr Coveney also predicted that the talks would run into next week. "We're not there yet. What I would say is the UK government understand only too well what’s needed for an agreement here. I don’t believe the EU ask is unreasonable and the EU also needs to show some compromise to accommodate many British asks. If you're asking me to call it I think we're more likely to get a deal".

That's the "take" from The Times, with the headline: "'No Brexit Deal This Week' As Talks With EU Go To The Wire".

Slide gracefully over to the Telegraph, however, and we see the headline: "Brexit talks could 'fall apart', warns Irish foreign minister", with the sub-head: "Simon Coveney says deadlock over 'level playing field' gurantees (sic) could result in no deal exit on January 1".

Text-wise, we are told that Ireland's foreign minister has warned that Brexit talks could "fall apart" as UK and EU trade negotiators' battle over the "level playing field" goes to the wire.

This, of course, is Coveney, who was speaking in Dublin. The Telegraph has him warning us that the "level playing field" deadlock could cause a no-deal exit on 1 January, forcing a mid-November deal deadline to slip.

Both sides now have until Thursday next week to strike the free trade deal before a European Council video conference on 19 November. Failure to meet that deadline will mess up the European Parliament's ratification schedule, something it is [very] reluctant to compromise.

Cue Coveney, still on the Telegraph's page, saying: "I think it is quite possible this could fall apart and we don't get a deal. That wouldn't shock me at all". He adds: "I think this week and next week are crucial. If we don't have a deal at some point next week, we have real problems".

With that, we can wander lazily over to the Guardian which is running the headline: "EU summit on 19 November seen as deadline for draft Brexit deal", this with the sub-head: "'If there isn't good news by then ... time is up', says senior EU diplomat".

As usual, they are all running the "summit" schtick – we've had 48 years of European integration and these Muppets still can't tell the difference between a "summit" and the European Council.

Anyhow, the gist is that this Council is viewed in Brussels as the final deadline for a draft Brexit deal, according to the Guardian. This paper has it that negotiators working in London had hoped to be able to pass on a deal to MEPs for scrutiny by 18 November to allow time for parliamentary ratification "but the talks remain difficult, according to sources on both sides".

But now, next Thursday's video conference, arranged to discuss the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic, is being seen as a key moment in the Brexit saga. From there, we get the senior EU diplomat of sub-heading fame, who obligingly says: "If there isn’t good news by then, then you really have to say that time is up – it just isn’t possible", adding: "The leaders will need to see that it is there".

However, there seem to be other possible moves. A final arbitration session between Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, is a possibility should the negotiators move closer to each other's positions on the outstanding issues.

As always those issues are unchanging: fishing, state aid and governance, with a few variations on the labels given to them. Both sides are blaming each other for a lack of flexibility, failures of "realism" and unwillingness to compromise. We've been there since March, when the talks started in earnest – or was it in Brussels?

When it comes to Coveney, however, The Times and the Guardian are at one, picking up what is probably agency copy – seeing as even Sky News has dipped its toe in the water, alongside the Independent. From the Guardian, though, we get a slightly longer version of the quote in The Times. In full, it reads:
Ireland's foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said he believed a deal would be struck despite the differences between the two sides.

He said: "I think we may well be likely to go into next week on these negotiations. We're not there yet. What I would say is the UK government understand only too well what's needed for an agreement here. I don't believe the EU ask is unreasonable and the EU also needs to show some compromise to accommodate many British asks".

"If we can overcome those issues, in particular fish which is very emotive and very political then I think we can get a deal done. If we can't get a deal done it will represent an extraordinary failure of politics and diplomacy".
As one might expect, the Irish Times is also on the case. It has the venue of Coveney's speech, which turns out to be a European Movement Ireland meeting.

From this source, though, we get a slight variation on the theme, with the minister saying that sealing an agreement would be "very difficult" but was “doable” despite there being "significant gaps" between the parties on competition issues, state aid and fisheries. "If we don't have a deal this time next week, I think we have problems", he then says.

I think from this, we can take home with confidence that a week today is that magic moment, when the coach turns back into a pumpkin, the mice die of Warfarin poisoning and Cinderella's clothes turn back to rags. But, given the EU, it could be just another deadline.

Not quoted elsewhere (that I can see), the Irish Times also has Coveney telling the Dáil that "a deal cannot be done at any price" – which isn't exactly news, but it bears repeating. The "colleagues" are not planning to roll over and have their tummies tickled, just yet.

In fact, there is more than a hint of steel (or maybe hardened plastic), when Coveney adds that: "The UK will also be aware that a future partnership agreement will only be possible if the withdrawal agreement, which it signed and ratified less than a year ago, is fully implemented".

Just to be helpful, he also refers to Arlene Foster's gripe about supermarket deliveries, saying that the Irish Government recognised that it was a "genuine issue" for trade across the Irish Sea. But, he says, the issue is not being used as a "negotiating lever" in EU-UK talks on a trade deal. Perhaps it wasn't that helpful.

Whatever else, though, we do know that, come what may, this ends soon. The last available European Parliament plenary session looks to be 14-17 December, and any deal must be taken though the committees first.

After 18 November, the "colleagues" could possibly squeeze a couple more weeks, although it is really pushing it. But then, if the IMB isn't sorted, the Parliament will only need one day to say "no". But it is fair to say that, unless it has happened by 17 December, it ain't going to happen this year – unless you know different.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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