The event's official agenda repeatedly downplays the get together's significance — the phrase ‘informal' crops up repeatedly — although few mainstream media outlets seem to have taken the hint, with many reports suggesting the meeting could well be a watershed moment in Brexit negotiations.
Those who have kept even vague track of developments in the saga since June 2016 are likely to have heard all the hype before — since that potentially fateful juncture, gatherings of EU member state representatives, no matter how low-key or seemingly inconsequential, are almost invariably hailed by pundits as a likely ‘turning point' or ‘breakthrough' in secession discussions.
To date, these assorted rendezvous have seemingly produced little clarity or concord on key areas of disagreement between Westminster and Brussels, such as the fate of EU nationals residing in the UK (and vice versa), trade, membership of the single market, and much, much more.
Lack of the Irish
Still, Brexit looms large on the event schedule, with a dedicated 'working lunch' centered on the topic, although Prime Minister Theresa May won't be attending. Talks will focus on "the EU-UK future partnership", "how to organise the final phase of the talks", and "the need for a legally operational backstop on Ireland".
The final point of consideration has unexpectedly proven to be one of the most significant bones of contention in negotiations. When Britain leaves the EU, it intends to take Northern Ireland with it, by default creating a land border with the EU, and the potential need for passport and customs checks, and tariffs, for goods, services or people crossing the boundary in either direction.
Without an agreement, there'll be no Brexit deal — and the "EU-UK future partnership" appears similarly intractable. Despite the passage of over two years, the pair is still yet to offer a clear vision on what form their post-secession relationship should and will take.
May remains committed to a cherry-picked approach — maintaining alignment with the bloc in certain areas, such as security, defense and goods, but ending sizeable contributions to the EU budget and freedom of movement, and withdrawing from the single market and jurisdiction of European Courts. The EU has consistently argued such divisions aren't feasible — a non-member state can't enjoy free movement of goods and capital without free movement of services and labour, or benefit from cross-border cooperation on security and policing without EU courts having a judicial role.
Deal or No Deal
When that announcement comes is up in the air — the previously agreed deadline of October is acknowledged by the EU and UK to be unrealistic — although will be discussed at the working lunch.
For weeks it's been rumored a conclusive summit on Brexit will be convened in November, which the event agenda seems to confirm. At that meeting, a draft withdrawal agreement could be presented, allowing May time to secure agreement from Parliament, and ready the country for its timetabled March 29, 2019, departure.
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