What to expect from crunch EU summit on Brexit

Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal, or any other, may lack enough support in the Commons to make it happen (Picture: WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal, or any other, may lack enough support in the Commons to make it happen (Picture: WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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Considering that she is heading into a summit full of European leaders who fundamentally disagree with her, it might seem strange that Theresa May could be forgiven for feeling a sense of relief ahead of the crunch talks.

However, with domestic problems mounting up, and challengers to her leadership said to be sharpening the knives, a do-or-die gathering of world leaders could be considered something of a holiday for the beleaguered Prime Minister.

As Mrs May heads to Brussels for the last full EU summit (at least of those scheduled) before the mid-November deadline that European leaders have set for a final deal, there remains an extraordinary amount of stumbling blocks to a deal.

Also extraordinary is the seeming inability of either side to budge from the initial proposals they set out at earlier stages in the talks.

With things at an impasse, we look at what to expect ahead of two days of high drama in the Belgian capital.

No deal?

There might be agreements, at least informally, that will be finalised at this meeting of all 27 EU leaders.

However, those expecting that a final deal that will formalise the UK’s exist on mutually beneficially terms in March 2019 are as naïve as they are optimistic.

READ MORE: Brexiteers issue warning ahead of EU summit

EU leaders not only need to negotiate as 26-team bloc with the UK, but will need to thrash out any divisions among their own group that may arise. Recent elections in Italy and Germany could yet complicate matters, but there remains, at least for now, a sense that the remaining countries in the EU are united.

That appears to not be the case with the UK Government, where Theresa May has just about managed to drag her cabinet along with her proposals ahead of the crunch talks in Brussels, but with work to do in convincing a majority in parliament.

Movement

‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ has been the phrase of choice for those urging calm as hopes of a deal appeared to fade, and that remains the case.

That doesn’t mean that the current impasse means that negotiations are either at a virtual standstill or doomed to fail, as some have suggested.

Mrs May talked of ‘significant progress’ in her discussions with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, and there are stirrings on the continent that suggest the Frenchman is seriously considering a recent proposal for a temporary customs arrangement with the UK.

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The European Union is also said to be warming to the idea of extending the formal transition period, which was previously designed to be only two years to allow as little disruption as possible, but which could under new plans last three at least.

Barring a disaster, there will certainly be warm words at the end of the two-day meeting, with much talk of progress made and relationships improved upon.

However, the real mark of how successful the chances of a deal are may lie several hundred miles away from Brussels.

Domestic Considerations

While the eyes of the British and European media will be trained upon Brussels, it is perhaps more significant to see the reaction in the four nations of Britain to any rumours of compromise to guage what chance a deal has of passing muster in the House of Commons.

Theresa May’s colleagues in the DUP are firm in their ‘blood red lines’ of avoiding a border in the Irish Sea, and it is to them that many will turn if there is a sense from the summit that such an agreement may be the only way to solve the Northern Irish problem.

Holding arguably even larger sway over the Prime Minister are ‘hard Brexit’ members of her own Conservative party.

Figures like Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and David Davis will be quick to take to the airwaves if it emerges that a deal that is unpalatable to them is close to be struck.

Whatever happens in Brussels, it is always wise to expect the unexpected.

With modern politics, and is especially with Brexit, it has never been more apparent that anything can happen.