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Brexit deal could be snared in translation litigation

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Brexit negotiators face yet another hurdle in their quest for a deal: a deadline of next Monday to get documents in the hands of EU translators, a senior EU official said Wednesday.

The looming end of the Brexit transition period at the end of the year — and the need for ratification by the British and European parliaments — already has negotiators under severe time pressure to finish their work on a future trade and political relationship. But the senior EU official said that there were also technical obstacles that would prevent the EU from translating the text of any agreement into all of the EU’s 23 official languages other than English, if that work does not begin by November 23.

Asking EU heads of state and government and the European Parliament to approve the agreement without translation could create an opportunity for legal challenges, or even stall the process into next year if any officials refuse to consider the English-only documents, as is their legal right.

France, in particular, has objected to the use of English-only documents in EU business, and in 2018 the French ambassador walked out of a meeting to drive home the point.

“If we don’t get an agreement before the 23rd of November, then there will be a problem with the translations for the validation procedures for the agreement,” the senior EU official said. “Because if we don’t get the agreement by the 23rd, that means we will not be able to use documents because they will only be available in English.”

Though London may interpret the point, conspiratorially, as a pressure tactic, the senior EU official said raising it was merely to highlight one of numerous practical realities of pushing negotiations so close to the end of the transition period.

Officials had long predicted that completing the ratification process by December 31 required reaching a deal before the EU27 leaders’ October summit — a deadline that was missed amid continuing disputes on the substance of a deal and acrimony over the U.K.’s threat to unpick key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement brokered last year.

“I am just pointing out from a technical point of view that this question of whether we are prepared at a European level in the validation procedure to work purely on the basis of English documents,” the official said. “If we accept that, that gives us a few more weeks. Otherwise the deadline really is the 23rd of November.”

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