Whisper it … an EU-UK deal is there to be done

LONDON — In the Brexit talks, the English Channel looks wider than ever — but a deal by the end of the year is more likely than many think.

The gulf between the two sides has been widened by Boris Johnson’s insistence that the U.K. wants maximum sovereign divergence from Brussels. On three key issues — state aid, dispute resolution and fishing — what the EU is asking for is not just problematic for the U.K.; it’s anathema.

But cut through the noise and there is a landing zone for a deal.

Paradoxically, the U.K. government’s decision to cut loose the aim of Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May for a “deep and special partnership” with the EU has injected a dose of realism.

Despite the seemingly intransigent rhetoric, the political conditions in the U.K. make compromise more likely.

As Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, has pointed out, the U.K. accepts that leaving the EU’s single market and customs union means more autonomy but also more barriers to trade. There is none of the cognitive dissonance of the early May era, when the U.K. wanted to “have its cake and eat it.”

“Beyond the headline issues the two parties aren’t so far apart,” Lowe said.

“A landing zone will only really become visible later on,” agreed Georgina Wright, senior researcher at the Institute for Government think tank. “Now it’s all about standing up for your interests and constituencies [or at least being seen to be] … A basic U.K.-EU deal in goods which covers some aspects of services is possible,

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