Brexit discussions off the table at summit as trade talks stall

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The EU, exasperated by the lack of progress in negotiations with UK officials, has abandoned plans to discuss the Brexit trade deal at a major summit on 2 September.

Talks scheduled across the summer have yielded no agreement on any of the key issues and a ‘no deal’ outcome on 31 December looks increasingly likely.

The blame game is already beginning. More in hope than expectation, the EU has appealed to the UK to adopt a more pragmatic approach. In practice, this would mean the UK accepting environmental standards, state aid rules and consumer protection rights in return for tariff-free access to the single market.

The UK insists that the EU has caused the impasse by insisting that all issues must be resolved together before a deal can be signed off.

From the outset of trade talks, the intention of both sides was to have the outline of a deal secured by the end of the summer. Even with the pandemic diverting leaders away from Brexit, the timetable has not shifted, mainly because extending the transition period beyond 2020 was not acceptable to the UK.

Despite the lack of progress and the gloomy predictions, there is still time for a deal to be brokered. Realistically, this would need to be completed by the end of October in order to meet the December deadline. However, this will require a concerted effort by all involved, backed up by a genuine desire to achieve a workable agreement.

We’ve been here before, of course. An eleventh hour deal emerged, seemingly from nowhere, which set out the terms for the UK leaving the EU. But this very fact may have sown seeds of complacency that a trade agreement will also materialise at the last minute. Can lightning strike twice?