“Sufficient progress” has become something of a Brexit catchphrase.
Yet, while diplomats in Brussels eye the looming 19 October deadline for agreement on the UK’s exit bill, the Irish border and citizens’ rights, Britain is still too busy dancing back and forth on its own to notice.
After last week’s disappointing round of negotiations, which failed to resolve any of the Brexit holy trinity, it finally began to look like London was ready to pull its socks up and “start negotiating seriously”.
Rumours of Britain “intensifying” the talks and a back-room deal on the exit bill brought a glimmer of hope that the process was back on track. Surely a minor outbreak of goodwill and realism was all it would take to push the talks over the “sufficient progress” line and move on to the nitty-gritty of future EU-UK relations.
But yesterday’s leak by The Guardian of a confidential Home Office document showed that rather than closing the gap on these crucial issues, the two sides are drifting further apart.
The leaked paper acknowledges that “migration benefits the UK, economically, culturally and socially”. But it then goes on to describe in detail how the government will pull up the drawbridge once it reaches the Brexit cliff-edge.
The tough proposals to end free movement and bypass parliament to erect new barriers to EU migrants will hardly be seen as “progress” in Brussels.
Under the plans, EU citizens will automatically be considered as temporary workers and will lose the right to family reunification for all but spouses, dependent relatives and children under 18.
No wonder the paper was marked “sensitive”. If this really is the government’s position, then it shows how little chance London has of securing any kind of deal.
If the October deadline comes and goes, the two sides will have less than a year to reach an even more comprehesive deal on their future relations and the whole timetable risks falling apart.
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