1/ Ex-Trade negotiator's inside baseball thread on what he's talking about here, because it's not remotely intuitive.

The UK absolutely can refuse to extend the transition and slow-walk issues important to the EU. You can tell they can because they're doing it.

However... https://twitter.com/POLITICOEurope/status/1253661520292085766
2/ On Fisheries and the Level Playing Field, the EU-UK negotiators find themselves in a place that's actually really common for such talks: diametrically opposed political instructions.

The final outcome simply can't simultaneously reflect the mandates of both sides as written.
3/ Again, this is totally normal. Virtually every trade negotiation begins from this position on at least a handful of issues.

The negotiators are unable to resolve these issues on their own, and political leaders don't want to move until the last moment. Standard stuff.
4/ To continue making progress in the face of issues like this, negotiators do a couple of things:

a) They exchange a lot of information to make sure there's been no misunderstanding of the issues and to see if any unexpected "3rd option" shakes loose.
b) They negotiate the language and provisions on all the parts of the relevant issue that aren't as controversial.

c) They work on 'hypothetical' technical language to capture an outcome for if either side backs down. "If we WERE to do this, how would it look?"
6/ Ultimately, these three approaches almost never resolve a sensitive issue on their own. At the end of the day, political leaders well above the heads of the negotiators have to make a decision.

However, these three steps lay the groundwork for that call and its aftermath.
7/ Exchanging information and time spent negotiating lets the teams tell politicians with confidence that they've tried and no magical negotiated solution which doesn't require a Minister making tough call is going to appear.
8/ Hammering out agreement on the non-controversial parts of the text isolates the outstanding issues, builds negotiating momentum, and encourages politicians to step in and resolve the final outstanding question that only they can fix.
9/ Drafting hypothetical legal versions of a difficult provisions gives both sides something they can circulate to their experts, agencies and stakeholders.

"Here's exactly what we'd be signing up to" can sometimes prove less scary than a still abstract demand.
10/ All this work also saves a mountain of time if the politics does shift.

This is especially valuable in the UK-EU negotiations, where the clock is so famously ticking.

A UK refusal to engage substantively on LPF and Fish may be what Barnier is truly griping about here.
11/ Reminder & Shameless Plug: If you found this thread interesting and want to learn more about how trade negotiations work in practice and how Covid might be affecting them, my half an hour e-learning course is available for under a fiver. https://explaintrade.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=trade-negotiations-during-covid-19
You can follow @DmitryOpines.
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