Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May have just emerged from their lunch. But there is no white smoke over Brussels this evening. Juncker said that it was ‘not possible to reach complete agreement’. So, there’ll be no recommendation of ‘sufficient progress’ today.
However, Juncker declared that he was still confident that the UK and the EU can reach sufficient progress by the December EU Council to move on to the next stage of the talks. Neither May nor Juncker set out which areas are still causing trouble, but all the talk today has been about the Irish border. The leaked text which talked about ‘continued regulatory alignment’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic kicked off a massive row. Senior figures in the DUP made clear that they wouldn’t accept anything that led to barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. At the same time, Brexiteers on this side of the Irish Sea started to become very worried that this ‘continued regulatory alignment’ was a precursor to an agreement for the whole of the UK to do the same, which would hugely restrict this country’s ability to strike significant trade deals with other countries.
It is not yet clear how the Irish border issue will be brought into land in time for the EU Council at the end of this week. But one suspects that it’ll have to involve some more fudging of the language in some way.