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John Simpson: Why I'm fast losing any hope of a good outcome in Brexit negotiations

Analysis

By John Simpson

A possible Brexit crisis in the next four weeks is now a risk. It may come from a major disagreement amongst the UK ministers leading to a Westminster fall-out.

Alternatively, it may come from a meeting with the European negotiators when there is no agreement on the UK article 50 negotiations.

Additionally, there is the unfinished difficult discussion on how to minimise the friction of the Irish border.

Even worse, a negative meeting with the EU in late June might mean that some of the agreements already reached become void.

Businesses must now consider the serious economic consequences if the negotiations collapse and, with that collapse, the expectation of a two-year trading transition period after March 2019 disappears. The 'cliff edge' scenario becomes an early, painful possibility.

Northern Ireland will enjoy no special protection if Brexit crashes. The extensive activity to develop a full working protocol for Northern Ireland in relation to all-island relationships could be abandoned.

The crisis in late June looms because the UK negotiations with the EU have been inadequate and still rely on a lack of precision for the UK expectations on the future (mainly trading) relationships with the EU of 27 countries.

The EU negotiators can argue that they have waited for a clear UK negotiating stance and the UK Government has not tabled clear expectations on a customs deal and a possibly adapted single market.

For Northern Ireland the negotiating position is compounded by being subsumed as part of the UK brief and then, additionally, closely involved in trying to agree a firm protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland relationships.

The seamless Irish border still awaits proposals that would ensure acceptable, efficient all-island relationships.

The potential for uninterrupted trading arrangements, together with helpful and necessary regulatory alignment, is a shared wish which is now threatened.

If the June meeting with the EU negotiators becomes a crisis, then, from the perspective of the governments of the UK and Ireland, there could be serious unwelcome consequences.

Ironically, the impact could be more serious for businesses across Ireland than elsewhere.

Brexit has proved a much more complicated disaggregation process than was realised at the time of the referendum. Not even the most ardent Brexiteers seem to have appreciated the range and complexity of the difficulties.

As the UK and EU negotiators prepare for the planned 'June summit' there will be increasingly concerned political comments on the need for (and the absence of) agreed agendas.

Going into the June summit without clear agreement on how to answer the many unanswered questions is more fraught than when preparing for earlier summits in 2017.

The time scale, leading to Brexit at the end of March 2019, is becoming too short to leave room for delay and postponement.

The UK Government must resolve the uncertainty and disagreement of its considered final negotiating position on trade and policy relationships, including customs partnerships and an acceptable version of how the UK might relate to the single market.

Then that final negotiating position must be resolved with the EU.

Only the optimists now expect sufficient progress will be made.

For the particular Irish questions, there remains an incomplete and partially controversial draft protocol.

Northern Ireland interests, with no political representation in the negotiations, will watch with serious concern the possibility of north-south and south-north trade becoming an uncomfortable regulatory crash.

In the two years following the UK referendum there has been a policy making vacuum. All the interest groups have known what the timetable needed.

The Irish Government, in particular, has been a frustrated participant. None of this gives comfort to the delivery of good government.

Time for the recovery of logical solutions is needed. What hope is there that the UK Government will agree to ask the EU for the temporary withdrawal of the Article 50 application?

Belfast Telegraph

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