The deadline for talks on a Brexit trade pact expires on Sunday. It doesn’t look good, because both sides are tough. But there are doubts whether the last word will really be spoken.

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Less than 48 hours before the self-imposed deadline for a breakthrough in talks on a Brexit trade pact expires, doubts about a deal are growing. Both parties decided that a decision had to be made no later than Sunday.

According to Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, an agreement is “getting more difficult every day, but it is still possible,” the SPD politician told Funke media group newspapers. He added: “That is why we as the EU will continue to negotiate as long as the window is open. We will see what happens by Sunday and then reassess the situation.”

Theoretically, the time would be until just before the turn of the year. Only then will the transition phase come to an end, in which everything remains the same despite the departure of the British from the EU. The British media is therefore speculating whether a return to the negotiating table would not be possible, even if they admitted the failure on Sunday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to make a no deal to his countrymen. It is “very, very likely” that the negotiations will fail, he said. But that too is a solution that is “great for Great Britain”. After all, from 1 January you can do exactly what you want, the prime minister said on Friday.

Any Johnson tactics?

The main point of contention next to fishing is the conditions of competition. Brussels takes the view that competition from Great Britain can only hope for tax-free trade if both sides of the Channel apply the same labor, social and environmental standards.

But for London that is a matter of principle. Time and again, British officials insist that it is a question of their country’s sovereignty. With Brexit, people want to regain control over their own laws, borders, waters and money – and not adopt the EU standards, over which they no longer have any influence. To Johnson, it is absurd that the EU, according to his presentation, is demanding that Britain follow the changes to EU rules every step of the way.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen objected in Brussels on Friday: The British are free to deviate from European rules in the future, for example in the field of environmental standards. But the conditions for the European internal market would therefore have to be adjusted, in other words: tariffs introduced.

When it comes to fishing, the British want to decide who gets to catch how much in their waters. But the exclusive economic zone, which the country now claims, is inconsistent with the historically evolved distribution of fishing grounds as defined in the framework of European fisheries policy. Economically, the subject hardly plays a role, but symbolically it is hardly to be underestimated for the former naval power Great Britain. Again, neither side wants to give in.

The British blame the government for the failure of the negotiations

Commentators in the UK disagree on what lies behind the stalemate. Both sides could trust the other to give in – and run the risk of serious miscalculation. Or would Johnson give in at the last minute in exchange for symbolic concessions and all is just a carefully planned choreography that should portray him as a fighter in the eyes of the Brexit hardliners? It wouldn’t be the first time. But no one can know for sure.

Should things go wrong, more than a third of Britons (35 percent) would blame their own government for the failure of the negotiations, according to a lightning poll by polling station YouGov on Friday. Just over a quarter (27 percent), however, sees responsibility with the European Union. Another quarter would blame both parties equally.

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