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LONDON — It is (to use a football term) squeaky bum time in the Brexit talks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his chief negotiator David Frost and various anonymous U.K. government briefings have teed up plenty of negative mood music ahead of the eighth round of future relationship negotiations, which start in London on Tuesday.
Johnson has set a hard deadline for a deal (the European Council summit on October 15) and insisted that failing to secure one would be a “good outcome.” Frost gave a rare interview to insist the U.K. wouldn’t “blink” in the talks. Meanwhile, briefings to the Times newspaper put Downing Street’s estimate of the probability of a deal at 30-40 percent and it was even suggested the U.K. was prepared to undermine the foundations of the talks themselves by altering the withdrawal treaty struck with Brussels last year.
After such a salvo, the stage might seem set for a huge Brexit bust-up when Michel Barnier arrives in London. But despite the noise, the fundamentals of the negotiations remain where they’ve been for weeks, stuck on just two issues: state aid and fisheries.
On the latter, officials on either side have said all along there is a route to a deal should a mood for compromise take hold. On the former, a deal looks further away, but not impossible — if the U.K. can decide what it wants.
‘I will not back down’
In a statement issued overnight,