Two things have to be agreed and soon. First the legal terms for how the UK walks away which must include a guarantee to prevent a hard border in Ireland, and second, the political declaration about what kind of future relationship there will be.
On Saturday, there are exactly six months until the UK leaves the European Union but the two sides are still miles apart.
Some of the British ministers who backed Brexit two years ago said the trade negotiations to leave the EU would be straightforward, that the UK would hold all the cards. The French president Emmanuel Macron recently called them liars.
British supporters of the EU call them far worse. Now, both sides are concerned that time is running out for an agreement. If they can’t agree on these the UK could crash out next March. The so-called No deal scenario.
TRT World‘s Europe Correspondent, Simon McGregor-Wood, reports on what’s become a critical timeline to reach a deal.
In October there will be a crucial summit of EU leaders in Brussels to tray and thrash out a deal. It’ll be make or break. If real progress is made there could be a final summit in November to sign the deal.
Prime Minister Theresa May is under intense pressure to provide new plans for keeping Irish border open and the EU seems to be forcing her to decide between staying in a customs union or a simple free trade deal‚ like Norway or like Canada. But she is insisting there should be a better option and Northern Ireland cannot be closer to the EU than the rest of the UK.
As ever domestic politics plays its part, some in her own party want a clean break despite the risk of economic trauma. This week’s Conservative Party conference will expose bitter divisions.
Meanwhile the opposition Labour Party is offering the possibility of a second referendum and threatening to vote against a deal it doesn’t like.
As time runs out there is a fear both sides are waiting for the other to blink.
The final stages of negotiation was always going to be difficult and acrimonious, but given how far apart both sides are, planning for a no-deal outcome is getting serious.