Richard North, 29/08/2020  

The Telegraph is reporting on Angela Merkel's annual summer press conference, telling us that she used the event to say she expects the Brexit trade talks to keep her team "busy until the end of the year", which is also the end of the Brexit transition period.

"The crucial weeks are now approaching to clarify the future relationship between the UK and the EU", Merkel is cited as saying.

I wonder if Telegraph's Jack Parrock, with his by-line in Brussels, realises that the Chancellor's office posts the entire press conference proceedings online, including the lengthy question and answer session.

From that we get that the Chancellor is not without a sense of humour. When, towards the end of the session, with still many questions outstanding and they were running out of time, she thought it might help speed up the proceedings if only the questions were asked and she no longer answered. "Then we'll get it done", she said.

But it would be wrong, I thought, to suggest that Merkel "used" the press conference to convey information on Brexit. That is giving it rather too much emphasis.

From the official record, what she did – in a wide-ranging conference that covered many topics, some at length – was "briefly mention" two issues. One of those was the common European asylum and migration policy, with proposals from the European Commission expected shortly.

The other "brief mention" was Brexit, "where the crucial weeks are approaching, in which we have to clarify the future relationship between Great Britain and the EU". These two issues, she said (as translated), "will push even more forward on the European stage in the coming weeks" and which "will then also occupy the presidency".

This was the only mention of Brexit in the entire conference, and there were no follow-up questions from media representatives. I certainly didn't get the impression from this that Dr Merkel or her "team" were particularly engaged on the issue, much less that it was going to keep her team "busy until the end of the year".

In fact, unless Jack Parrock was reading from an entirely different script, there was no mention of being kept busy. Certainly, there was nothing said that would seem to support the headline, " Brexit talks will go down to wire, Angela Merkel suggests as leaders are called in to get deal done", nor the picture caption which has Merkel suggesting "talks could go on until the end of the transition period".

What actually came over was how low-key Brexit is, especially from the lack of media interest, which does seem to indicate that Parrock is building bricks from straw, especially as Germany removed Brexit from the agenda of a meeting of EU diplomats, scheduled for next week.

On 24-25 September, there is a special European Council, but this has been convened to deal with the escalating situation between Greece and Turkey. As yet, there are no plans to discuss Brexit – although the agenda has not yet been published.

The next Brexit negotiations are due on 7 September, although we now learn that Barnier and Frost are to meet informally next week, apparently for "emergency discussions" on how to break the deadlock.

This has not been officially confirmed and there doesn't seem to be any great expectations that anything will be will be achieved. That doesn't doesn't stop the drama queens hyperventilating about Johnson having less than two weeks to save the talks – which I suppose is less of an ask than having to save the planet in 18 months, or whatever period the greenies have settled on this time.

Phrases such a "knife edge" and "make-or-break" moments are almost putting us in Express territory, with The Sun having France urging the EU to "stick to its guns", despite admitting a no-deal outcome could wreck its economy.

French Europe minister, Clement Beaune, is cited as saying: "We could accept out of convenience an agreement that is too fast and too weak", adding, "It is in our interest and the economic interest of many sectors in France, but we can't be weak. We can’t accept access to our market if they (les rosbifs) don't respect our rules in terms of competition, environment, health".

However, with nothing much hard to go on, and much excitable speculation, we are not much further forward than we were last week, although anyone who can read a calendar must know that we are approaching the endgame.

No doubt, both sides have some plump rabbits in reserve, ready to pull them out of hats at the appropriate time, and as the days are ticked off, we can expect an amount of posturing. With that, and the probability that neither side is any more certain of the outcome of the talks than we are, further speculation is fruitless.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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