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: What Boris Johnson’s COVID quarantine and firing of hard Brexiteers means for the U.K.-EU trade talks

Pessimism is rising over Brexit as PM Boris Johnson is forced into COVID isolation. Read More...

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, participates in a service to commemorate the centenary of the burial of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day in London, England, on November 11, 2020.

POOL/AFP via Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is self-isolating in his official residence after meeting with a member of Parliament who was later found to be infected with coronavirus, as talks between the U.K. and the European Union on a future trade deal enter their last stretch.

  • Johnson said in a video clip that it didn’t matter that he was “bursting with antibodies” after being infected by COVID-19 earlier this year: “We’ve got to interrupt the spread of the disease,” he pleaded, adding that he was “full of optimism and confidence” about the U.K.’s ability to end the pandemic.
  • Advisers and ministers will be banned from entering the prime minister’s official residence in the next two weeks, and Johnson will keep manning government business via videoconferences.
  • “The announcement will raise questions over how rigidly No. 10 has been following social distancing rules and minimizing contacts during lockdown,” the Times of London noted.
  • Four more members of the House of Commons went into self-isolation on Monday after the same meeting in the prime minister’s offices at 10 Downing Street.
  • U.K. and EU negotiators are in the last few days of their difficult talks about a trade treaty that would govern their relationship after the U.K. leaves the European single market at the end of the year, amid signs that no progress has been made on the main substantial differences between the two sides.
  • Key “hard-Brexit” proponents in Johnson’s circle of advisers were ousted last week in a major reshuffle, but the government insisted over the weekend that it would have no bearing on the U.K.’s firm stance in the continuing negotiations.
  • EU leaders are due to hold a videoconference on Thursday to discuss the state of the talks and agree on a way forward.

Read: Top Boris Johnson adviser Dominic Cummings steps down

The outlook: The U.K.’s insistence that its position hasn’t changed after the departure of the hard-core Brexiteers is par for the course. But pessimism is rising on both sides on the possibility of striking a deal in time for parliaments to ratify it by the end of the year. And signs are mounting that the U.K. hasn’t properly prepared for a hard Brexit scenario.

What matters isn’t the official spin, where bragging from both sides about never ever giving up on “red lines” should be expected: In reality, concessions will have to be made for a deal to materialize. The crucial question in the last days of the negotiations is how far Johnson is prepared to go to get a deal, and how comfortable and credible he would then be to paint it as a resounding success, for the benefit of the still-influential Brexit hard-core of his Conservative Party.

Opinion: How a slumping economy and Joe Biden’s election are backing Boris Johnson into a Brexit corner

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