And the chances of this deal being signed at the EU Council of bloc leaders, which meets on Thursday and Friday, are still unmeasurable.
In this crucial week, all the pressures and politics that have frustrated the process so far will come to bear, and the “landing zone” for a workable deal is like an aircraft carrier in a hurricane.
But, on the other hand, there has been a remarkable change on both sides from the pessimistic rhetoric just a week ago. And Number 10 is desperate for a deal. The law as it stands, thanks to the new Benn Act, requires a Brexit extension if no deal can be found. The government blusters in private briefings that its lawyers have found a legal loophole in the Act, but this is much more likely to be a bluff than a ticket to a no-deal Brexit on Halloween.
An election is likely to quickly follow. And the government knows that if it fights an election with Britain still in the EU then its Brexiter support base will flock to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which promises Brexit at any cost.
Worse, the government fears a new Brexit referendum could precede an election, a possible result of the horse-trading between opposition parties in Parliament this week, where although the government is 46 votes short of a majority, there is also no majority for a Jeremy Corbyn prime ministership.
But if a Brexit deal is done and passes Parliament then the Brexit Party support will likely evaporate, the “cancel Brexit” Liberal Democrats left without a policy, and Johnson will have the election he wants most: him versus Corbyn, unencumbered by Brexit.
So what is this deal? From the leaks that have emerged from Number 10 and Brussels, it represents real concessions on both sides, but there is still a chasm between them.
The big stumbling block, as ever, is how to keep the Irish border open after the UK has left the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.
The UK rejected the previous solution: a “backstop” insurance policy that would keep the UK de facto inside the EU’s customs zone. But it also rejects the EU’s preferred alternative, a Northern-Ireland only backstop.
Britain now, reportedly, has a complicated idea about tracking goods as they enter Northern Ireland, and treating them differently if they are bound for the UK or EU.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and the deal would leave barely a year of “transition” to get the system up and running (hence the EU’s reluctance to abandon the backstop).
The EU worries the deal represents a back door into its single market that could encourage fraud. And the UK worries it won’t pass Parliament, where the government needs the support of Brexiter ultras, Northern Irish unionists and Tory rebels it unceremoniously sacked from the party a few weeks back.
Meanwhile, the UK Parliament will be debating the government’s new legislative agenda, as presented by the Queen on Monday: in reality a big election pitch.
By mid-week it should be clear if a Brexit deal can be done.
By the end of the week we’ll know if one has been done.
And then all eyes will turn to an extraordinary session of the House of Commons on Saturday, where just about anything could happen: a government could fall, a Brexit deal could pass, an election or referendum called.
A prime minister will emerge with an unlikely, possibly tarnished victory, or be held to account and ordered to break his biggest promise.
Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
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