The divorce bill is still the issue, with us refusing to talk seriously about even the methodology by which the bill would be calculated, despite this being the EU's stated priority and despite their scheduling being accepted by David Davis back on the first day of negotiations. It seems that the two parties are coming at this issue from completely different viewpoints, with Liam Fox going so far as suggesting that the EU are blackmailing us. In reality, we will end up paying a divorce bill, and the current stalemate is of our own making. The EU just wants to see sufficient progress on what we have already agreed to pay, not even necessarily what we may want to pay for in the future. The actions of the government in this regard are actively frustrating the process, increasing the time pressure and seriously testing the good will of the other side.
In some news which seemed to fly totally under the radar, David Davis was in America last week telling his friends that the customs paper was "blue sky thinking", and pretty much admitting that the proposed solutions are dead in the water and the likely outcome is a hard Irish border. How this didn't hit all the headlines I do not know. I can imagine similar comments coming from the mouths of the say Juncker or Verhofstadt in regard to our position papers causing uproar amongst Brexiteers, as indeed they did last week. This follows an increasing trend of people getting angry with reality, or getting angry at the EU when they present us with it. For some reason, people got angry at Michel Barnier when he suggested that Brexit would be an "educational process" and that "There are extremely serious consequences of leaving the single market and it hasn’t been explained to the British people." I get that this feels like him having a dig at Britain but he is completely correct.
There is a way of thinking out there, strangely at it's highest when the negotiations don't appear to be going very well, that any criticism of Brexit or realism about the difficulties Brexit may impose upon us as a country is "talking Britain down". This is nonsense. The moment criticism of a government or a government's approach to a national issue becomes synonymous with criticism of the country as a whole we enter dangerous territory.
In some better news, Chief of the EFTA court Carl Baudenbacher is in the country for a series of speeches in which he will lay out why we should join EFTA. Baudenbacher also had a visit to Japan, coinciding with Mrs. May no less, to talk to them about how EFTA could assist in forging a Japan-Britain (or Japan-EFTA,as it were) FTA. Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson even said on the Today show that "Everybody wants to make a free trade deal with Britain" & "that's why EFTA is keen to recruit UK." There have been many discussions before about whether or not the small group of countries would want an enormous disruptive force like Britain coming into it's institutions, but the answer is no as firm a "yes, absolutely" as I think we can get to.
Next week, the EU (withdrawal) Bill will go to its second reading in the House of Commons next week, and the Commons library have released a lengthy briefing paper on the bill, finding it to be far from complete and full of all sorts of legal conundrums. This blog from professor Mark Elliot also reveals the extent of the work that still needs to be done for the bill to be close to serviceable.
Finally, Guy Verhofstadt let slip yesterday that there would be "an important intervention" into the Brexit process by Theresa May on September 21st, just before the Tory party conference and seemingly pushing back the fourth round of negotiations. There are a few plausible guesses, it could be that this is where we see an offer made on the divorce bill, although this would be a really odd move. Why would we choose to do this in a press release rather than in the negotiations? More likely is that May will call for intensified, rolling negotiations, something she apparently wants and that would make sense given the lack of sufficient progress thus far, the Tories' intentions to start talks on trade in October, and just the enormity of the task ahead.