The National:

THE Brexit transition expires three weeks from today – yet, we still have no clarity on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The responsibility for this predicament lies with Boris Johnson and his Government. It is a colossal failure of statecraft and it exposes the undeniable dysfunction at the core of Westminster politics.

Faced with the edge of the Brexit precipice, we hear the familiar refrains: these are difficult negotiations; they were always going to go to the wire; and the real compromises are going to be made at the last minute. Those claims are products of the Brexit populist project. The uncertainty and fear which we are now experiencing were not inevitable, and they are not normal.

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Our present situation is the result of deliberate choices by Boris Johnson and Theresa May. The Johnson Government in particular has made Brexit decisions which knowingly damage people’s lives, livelihoods and opportunities – in exchange for its small, political benefit. The Brexit ideology which it seemingly serves has brought so much difficulty to society.

At last night’s negotiation rescue dinner in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson had French scallops – an unsubtle reminder of the unresolved issues between the two sides. Nevertheless, no apparent breakthrough resulted, beyond a further extension of talks until Sunday, when the EU will decide what to do next.

The European Commission has today published its contingency measures in the event of No Deal, to ensure basic air, road and other connectivity – to protect EU interests, not to bail out the UK.

Unfortunately, the fundamental deciding factor will be whether Boris Johnson is willing to see reason and compromise on his current demands.

The absolute imperative of securing a close and functional future relationship between the EU and the UK is obvious to anyone who has not been blinded by Brexit populism

As European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness aptly put it yesterday, speaking to the Oireachtas finance committee: "I think there is a failure to understand – which perhaps is a failure of Brexit at the very outset – if you choose to leave, there are consequences, particularly where that country wants to stay part of the single market."

While the EU will consider making compromises, where that is reciprocated, the statements of recent days make abundantly clear that the EU will not accept a deal at any price. German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has often been more conciliatory on Brexit than French president Emmanuel Macron, underlined that exact point yesterday in the Bundestag.

In particular, ensuring a level playing field is absolutely essential for the EU, as it goes to the foundations of the single market and what allows it to function.

The EU is also committed to ensuring that any agreement has robust and rapid measures for responding to breaches by one side. The UK Government is wholly responsible for the EU’s wariness. It damaged its own reputation through the Brexit process generally, and its tactics on the Internal Market Bill significantly heightened concerns. The EU now wants sufficient guarantees before it signs up to a new deal with the UK.

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The question of fisheries is acrimonious, but it is also connected with Scotland’s own future. The EU has reportedly proposed a 10-year transition period of reciprocal fishing access. That timescale would certainly give enough time for Scotland to vote for independence, become independent and join the EU – all before the fisheries transition expired. Perhaps the European Commission is paying more attention to Scottish politics than the UK Government would like to admit.

Of all the EU member states, Ireland will be worst affected by Brexit, even with a deal. The UK’s cavalier approach to the success or failure of negotiations is extremely inconsiderate to its nearest neighbour. The concern over a No-Deal outcome is written on the faces of Irish politicians. Yet, Ireland is adapting to the looming reality. New ferry routes to bypass the UK landbridge have been announced, including a six-day-a-week service between Rosslare and Dunkirk starting the day after New Year’s.

The absolute imperative of securing a close and functional future relationship between the EU and the UK is obvious to anyone who has not been blinded by Brexit populism.

Whatever happens over the coming days, the EU knows that it will have to manage a challenging relationship with an unstable UK for years to come. The formalities of Brexit will have end dates, but the interconnectedness between this island and the rest of Europe will never truly diminish.

Anthony Salamone is Managing Director of European Merchants, the political analysis firm in Edinburgh