Both parties now aim to finalise divorce terms by the middle of November at the latest– according to people familiar with the British and European positions– who spoke on condition of anonymity, as the nature of discussions still remain private.
The longer timeframe acts as another indication that negotiators are struggling to make headway, and the risk remains that the closer the talks run to the UK’s exit on March 29, the greater the chance will be that there won’t be a deal. The EU summit beginning Oct 18 had been earmarked as deadline, after prior hopes of resolving the divorce in June dissolved.
If the deadline is pushed back again into December or January, both sides would face perilous choices over whether to give ground or give up on talks completely.
Negotiations have been painfully slow since an agreement on a transitional period was reached in March. The two sides remain far apart on the touchiest topic: How to guarantee that there will never be a hard border between the UK province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Even so, British officials insist they’re “confident” of getting a deal.
“We’re working to the October deadline,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, Greg Swift, told reporters in London yesterday.
“Both sides have agreed to increase the pace of negotiations. That’s what we’re doing.” He added.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, after a meeting with UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab last week, would not commit to October as the deadline for the completion of the accord. He however reiterated that it couldn’t be much later than “before the end of the year.”
Achieving a divorce deal in the fall is seen as vital to allow enough time for the British and European parliaments to ratify the accord before Britain legally leaves the bloc. The lack of progress has weighed on the pound in recent weeks, amid warnings from senior ministers that Britain risks crashing out of the EU without any agreement.