There was a burst of hope this morning that after many repeated false starts, Theresa May and JC Juncker would finally announce a Brexit deal on Monday. Alas it was not meant to be and after a brief conference between the two leaders, we learned that despite progress, a Brexit deal "was not possible today."
According to the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, "it was the DUP call that sunk today's chances of a deal - Foster held her press conf, 20 mins later May leaves talks with Juncker to call her, goes back into the room and the deal is off."
However it was another BBC reporter, Katya Adler, that had the best summary of today's events: "No-one knows what’s going on now, one EU diplomat told me"
No-one knows what’s going on now, one EU diplomat told me #Brexit
— katya adler (@BBCkatyaadler) December 4, 2017
What we do know is that despite the lack of a deal, hope remains and speaking after talks between the UK and the European Commission’s negotiators, Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Despite our best effort and a significant effort, it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today” adding that "this is not a failure, this is the start of the very next round."
Juncker added that “we now have a common understanding on most relevant issues, with just two or three open for discussion. This will require further consultation, further negotiation and further discussion,” and that "we were narrowing our positions to a huge extent today thanks to the British prime minister, thanks to the willingness of the European Commission to have a fair deal with Britain."
In her first public press statement in Brussels alongside Juncker since the start of Brexit talks nine months ago, May chimed in: “I am confident we will conclude this positively" adding that “on a couple of issues, some issues remain which will require further negotiation and consultations. We will reconvene before the end of this week."
As reported earlier, talks had come unstuck over the Northern Irish border in recent weeks. Earlier in the day after government sources in Dublin said London had agreed to keep Northern Ireland “aligned” to EU regulations to avoid a “hard border” with the Irish Republic. Word of that sent the pound higher on hopes of rapid trade talks but according to Reuters, provoked an angry response from May’s allies in Northern Ireland, demanding equal treatment with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Underlining the conundrums of Brexit, the idea of Northern Ireland remaining closely linked to the EU single market prompted speculation that, to avoid new barriers between Belfast and London, the British mainland would have to follow suit.
The leaders of Scotland and London, which voted against Brexit, demanded they be allowed the same EU relationship as Northern Ireland. Yet May has ruled out such differentiated treatment or staying in a customs union or the single market.
* * *
So where do we stand after today's chaos? Well, Juncker said that he is “very confident” the Brexit negotiations will achieve a breakthrough this week: “I’m very confident that we’ll reach an agreement in the course of this week,” the Commission president told reporters after his meeting with May.
“We now have a common understanding on most relevant issues, with just two or three open for discussion,” Juncker concluded.
The markets have taken Juncker's optimism in stride: after sliding to day lows following news of the no deal, cable has recovered half the loss, and was last trading around 1.347.