Belfast Telegraph

Kevin Doyle: EU minds focus on Brexit extension as deal hopes crash into brick wall

The EU side is ready to negotiate day and night, Jean-Claude Juncker, left, said (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
The EU side is ready to negotiate day and night, Jean-Claude Juncker, left, said (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

By Kevin Doyle

If this is a moment of truth then perhaps it's better to cut to it: there is not going to be a Brexit deal on October 31.

Since Boris Johnson's took over in July, it has been impossible to predict how negotiations would play out.

There has been extraordinary noise out of London for the past two months, but one thing now appears clear: we have run out of time and into a brick wall.

Even if Johnson were to miraculously table workable alternatives to the backstop in the coming hours, the EU would struggle to turn them into legal text before Halloween.

None of the key players in Brussels are willing to publicly admit that the gig is up, but conversations are already shifting towards the type of extension that will be granted.

The submission of four "non-papers" summarising the UK's thinking over the past fortnight has not opened up any fresh hope of compromise.

The papers relating to agri-food rules, manufacturing standards and customs amounted to just a few A4 pages each.

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They set off alarm bells for EU officials who have wondered whether the UK has actually gone back in time.

Another theory is that Johnson and his Brexiteer Cabinet were engaging in some gaslighting ahead of the final showdown.

The paper which suggested customs zones on both sides of the border with a no-man's land in between was metaphorically shredded as soon as it landed.

Little is expected from the Government's final roll of the dice, although the EU will be seen to actively engage with whatever is put forward.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to talk with Johnson by telephone shortly after the proposal drops. They may even meet in the coming days if there is anything worth talking about. The grave suspicion is that it's too late to rescue the situation.

A lot of scenarios have been discussed in the EU's corridors of power, including the idea of a short technical extension if the UK puts forward a workable solution.

However, no matter how many times Johnson suggests it, there will not be a deal hammered out at the leaders' summit on October 17.

Prime Ministers do not want to be sitting in a room in Brussels at 3am discussing how to control pigs coming off a ferry in Larne.

What they might do at that hour, though, is agree to put the whole thing on hold again.

Several leaders, including France's Emmanuel Macron, are likely to object but, ultimately, if the UK is going to have an election, they will give in.

The Republic will strongly agree that another extension is better than a no-deal, even if it prolongs the uncertainty.

But then there is the possibility that Johnson will refuse the terms of an extension and say he was forced to leave without a deal.

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