When it comes to Brexit, all negotiations are inter-linked: EU-UK trade talks, the process to implement their divorce deal, negotiations on fishing rights and Brussels’ deliberation on UK financial service.
What happens in one area very much affects progress in the others. You cannot separate them entirely.
Which is why this week, as the war of words and wills between Brussels and Downing Street raged over the government’s threat to throw a grenade at key parts of the divorce deal, everyone’s thoughts turned immediately to the trade talks between the two sides.
In fact, they limp on. Negotiations are set to resume in Brussels on Monday. This, despite the EU ending the week by threatening Downing Street with legal action unless it rowed back on its threats to the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of the month.
The government insists it will not budge. So it is significant that the EU stopped short of threatening to press the nuclear button – shutting down trade talks altogether.
Why is that, when we know the EU is furious?
First of all, Brussels still wants a deal with the UK, if at all possible, this autumn.
Secondly, the sense in Brussels is that the government is trying to provoke the EU into abandoning the trade negotiations.
“We’re not going to give them that satisfaction,” a high-level EU diplomat told me. “We refuse to be manipulated.”
So, despite bitter arguments over legislation on the one hand, and a huge list of outstanding issues still to be ironed out in bilateral trade talks; despite time and trust running out on both sides; neither the EU nor the UK seem to want to be the first ones to walk out the door.
It is still possible, of course, that the government’s bill is stopped in the House of Lords or even beforehand by rebel MPs.
It is possible for the EU and UK to iron out their differences over the divorce deal and in trade talks. Concessions can always be “dressed-up” to look like victories, after all.
It has been done before. Remember last autumn? Finding agreement on the divorce deal seemed nigh on impossible – until it was not and a deal was signed.
But, right now that feels like a long shot. The chatter on both sides of the Channel is that “no deal” is becoming more likely by the day.