The chances of an agreement before the European summit of 17 and 18 October are weak, even if both parties seem determined to succeed.
So there was no exit from the tunnel between the Brexit Chief Negotiator's teams and Boris Johnson's teams, who had been in talks all weekend, to find a solution to the North Irish question, the last one to to pose a problem in the divorce treaty. "There is still a lot of work left," judged Michel Barnier on Sunday 13 October evening.
Only four days before a decisive European Council, the chances of an agreement in time seem objectively weak. Yet cautious optimism remained in London as in Brussels. Because now, several convergent sources assure it: the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom really want to reach a "deal".
In Brussels, after two and a half years of negotiations and two consecutive lags of divorce, the fatigue of Brexit is strongly felt. Mr. Barnier described "Constructive" the weekend discussions. "He wants to find an agreement with the British, the Member States too, but we are not there yet", decrypts a diplomat.
Boris Johnson back to the wall
"There is a way for an agreement respecting our interests, the agreement of Good Friday (of peace in Northern Ireland, signed in 1998), to get rid of the backstop (European insurance against the return of a border in Ireland), and realize the Brexit at October 31 ", Johnson told members of his cabinet Sunday, according to a spokesman for Downing Street. The Prime Minister is back on the wall: if he does not keep the promise he has been daily repeating since the end of July, "Achieve Brexit on October 31"he is likely to pay a very high price at the polls – and the whole Conservative Party behind him.
Moreover, Benn Act, the parliamentary law voted against his will, requires him to claim in Brussels a Brexit shift to January 31, 2020 if he did not reach an agreement before October 19 … That's why, October 10, in a bilateral meeting with Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, he finally agreed to return to the proposal made to the Europeans on October 2, deemed unacceptable by the latter.
Mr Johnson then accepted that Northern Ireland remains aligned with the internal market rules for trade in goods. But until now demanded that the province come out of the European customs union. Both parties are working on a new scheme, in which customs controls would be carried out between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and not on the Island of Ireland, as proposed by London in early October.