Analysis: Why the UK Government sets Brexit deadlines despite always missing them

The EU and Britain have agreed to go beyond Sunday’s deadline to deliver a Brexit deal, an extremely precedented move that keeps things as they have been since time began.

The two sides have agreed to continue talks despite setting a deadline of today

Boris Johnson spoke to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday morning and agreed to carry on talking, with the pair vowing to “go the extra mile” in an effort to avoid a no deal outcome on January 1.

The statement offered no real update to the substance of the talks, but struck a much more positive tone than what came before.

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There was no comment on the usual huge differences, nor the warnings that both sides were fully prepared for a no deal outcome. Most notably, there was no mention of a new deadline to finally, finally, get Brexit done.

For so long, setting arbitrary deadlines to come to an agreement was a key part of the UK Government strategy, if not to deliver a deal, then to show ardent Brexiteers how little they were willing to compromise to get one.

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At first, the UK Government had told the European Union in June it needed to strike a trade deal before the end of the summer, because things should be sorted by then. After that, the PM set a hard deadline of October 15, threatening to walk away if an agreement was not reached.

Come mid-October, Mr Johnson warned the UK must prepare for a no-deal, albeit one he believed would allow Britain to "prosper mightily", and said the time had come to walk away.

His spokesman went even further, accusing the EU of “effectively ending” the talks by “ saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position.” Just hours later it emerged the talks were actually still ongoing, and the PM’s announcement was simply lip service to Brexiteers, albeit comments that hit the pound.

Sunday saw a marked change in the PM’s rhetoric, despite the fact the talks do not appear to have made great progress on the outstanding issues of fishing, state aid and governance.

Despite repeatedly stressing how Britain would manage a no deal, the PM now insisted he is all in to get a deal. He added: “I’m afraid we’re still very far apart on some key things, but where there’s life, there’s hope. We’re going to keep talking to see what we can do. The UK certainly won’t be walking away from the talks.”

This new found enthusiasm has extended to phone calls, with the PM this week being snubbed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron after he requested a phone call with them to try and unlock the Brexit talks. On Sunday, the UK Government briefed Mr Johnson was still trying, only to be rebuffed by other international leaders. The PM is making public efforts to land a deal, and making sure the public see it as the EU’s fault if they fail to do so.

So what’s happened to deadlines? Ultimately posturing can only last so long, and there’s not that much showing off you can do in the face of food shortages and a hit to GDP. The refusal to set a deadline suggests both sides accept they need a deal, and will work until time runs out to get one.

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