Brexit Secretary David Davis puts the chances of a breakthrough in divorce talks by December at 50-50, according to European business leaders he briefed at a meeting on Monday.
“I asked Davis whether he still thought a deal was possible” by the EU December summit, Emma Marcegaglia, head of the BusinessEurope lobby group, told Bloomberg. “He said there was a 50-50 chance of getting a deal.”
Another European business leader who attended the meeting, but declined to be named, also said the U.K. chief negotiator had put the chances of a deal at 50 percent. Davis’s department had no immediate comment.
Talks are deadlocked over the contentious divorce bill as the divided U.K. government has been reluctant to accept EU’s demands to make a better offer. The EU has given the Brits two weeks to make more financial concessions, and says it won’t let talks move on to the future trading relationship — or even the transition deal that companies on both sides crave — until it does so.
As the clock ticks down to Brexit day in March 2019, businesses are making contingency plans, some of which involve relocations and shifting jobs from London.
EU leaders meet on Dec. 14 for a summit and in the run-up to that meeting will decide whether the U.K. has done enough on the divorce issues to move talks along. If December is a bust, EU officials have indicated the next opportunity for a breakthrough will be in March.
That would leave about seven months to hash out a deal before it goes to the European Parliament for approval. For company executives needing to plan ahead that might be too late. They are after transition arrangements that can be spelled out no later than January — or they lose their value.
May’s efforts to convince European companies to lobby their respective governments to seek a rapprochement also fell flat. EU members have remained united in the face of Brexit, and have delegated the issue to chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
“May in particular said that we business leaders should express our concerns to the EU governments,” Marcegaglia said. “She and Davis are trying to pass the buck but it’s the British government which has to make a move.”
The U.K. argues it’s made important steps and it’s now up to the EU side to respond in kind. But the EU wants a divorce settlement of about 60 billion euros ($70 billion) that includes commitments the U.K. signed up to as a member. The U.K. has only accepted about a third of that, at least in public.
(c) 2017, Bloomberg · John Follain, Emma Ross-Thomas