It was consistently pointed out by leading figures from various European governments, institutions and organs of the EU that the two-year notification period required under article 50 notification was very tight to be able to agree on a post-exit trade deal between the UK and the EU. Indeed, the more perspicacious noted that the period was not intended for such negotiations, but rather provided a fire-break where the two parties could disentangle themselves. Strictly speaking, the EU cannot engage in trade talks with the UK until it ceases to be a member state, but some latitude in this respect will clearly be granted.
The UK’s David Davis promised the “row of the summer” between the EU and the UK to ensure that trade would be discussed in parallel with what has been styled the “divorce settlement”, but this position was abandoned quickly as formal talks began, only to be reasserted just recently on the pretext that substantive talks over the fate of the UK/Irish border must be informed on the future trading relationship.
It has yet to dawn (in public, at any rate) on the UK government that they have very little leverage to use over their 27 EU partners and that whilst they may wish to avoid a “cliff edge” scenario when the UK crashes out of the bloc in April 2019, the harm done to the UK economy will be hugely worse than any hit the EU takes.
Over the summer, it has become clear that the UK will seek a (2 to 3 year?) transitional period upon leaving the EU, but whilst this serves UK interests it is less obvious as to why the EU would agree to prolong the agony of separation with its inherent (and economically damaging) uncertainty. Equally, we learn that the UK wants to leave the customs union and forge a new, identical, customs union with the EU with the one small difference that it would allow the UK to negotiate free trade deals with whomsoever wanted them (something the existing arrangement precludes). The new UK/EU land border (with the Republic of Ireland) should be a soft border with frictionless import and export of goods. It should be obvious to those in power that the EU and indeed Ireland simply can’t agree to this (some claim it would violate WTO rules in any event) and again, what the EU gets from this is hard to see.
The latest element is a reiteration that the UK no longer wishes to be bound by ECJ decisions (with immediate effect following Brexit), but a grudging concession that “indirect” EU jurisprudence will continue.
The reluctance of the EU to agree to these UK pipe dreams is being derided as bullying in sections of the UK press, stoking up public opinion to blame the EU for the impending disaster of Brexit which is of British making and Conservative Party design.
Brexit can be stopped in various ways by the government or (de facto) by parliament, but doing so will end political careers and could sunder the major parties. At the moment, there is no political appetite to act in national, rather than party, interests.