And You Thought Brexit Was Tough …


Mr. Johnson is trying to build bridges to European officials, having seen that his positive relationship with Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, helped him strike a critical deal on Britain’s withdrawal last fall. As is so often the case with Brexit, there is a danger of the two sides talking past each other.

In Brussels, officials are preoccupied by the complexity of the looming trade talks and are pushing the British to be pragmatic. They seem baffled by Mr. Johnson’s insistence on a compressed, time-limited negotiation, which they say could inflict needless damage on Britain’s economy.

Yet, in London, the Brexit project has always been driven by politics rather than economics. After his big election victory, Mr. Johnson is determined not to repeat the experience of his predecessor, Theresa May, whose leadership was destroyed by the crippling debate over withdrawal from the European Union.

Government officials have been told to avoid using the word “Brexit” to underscore the idea that the Jan. 31 departure will settle the issue once and for all. Mr. Johnson wants to resolve future trade ties quickly, so he can shift his government’s focus to less toxic domestic issues like health care.

Analysts also said the prime minister is calculating that if some damage to the British economy from Brexit is inevitable, it would make sense to sustain it early so that his government has four years or so to turn around the election before he faces voters in the next general election.

Mr. Johnson’s main objective on Wednesday was to convince Dr. von der Leyen that there will be no extension to the transition period. But she held out hope that Britain might reconsider in July, the last milestone at which Mr. Johnson could petition for an extension.

In a statement Downing Street described the talks as “positive” and said Britain wanted “a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and cooperation in other areas,” though the British say they want a different type of negotiation to the last one where nothing was agreed until everything was. That would open the way to a series of more limited accords, were Brussels to agree.



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