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Commentators routinely refer to the money Britain is paying as part of its negotiations to leave the EU as the “divorce bill”. The metaphor is irresistible. The question has always been how amicable, or otherwise, the separation is going to be.

In the first flush of consternation and shock following the Brexit vote in June 2016, some in Britain feared a desire in other European capitals to punish the UK for its decision to throw off the Brussels “yoke”. However, as Gideon Rachman argues in his column, the chances of an amicable divorce suddenly look much greater.

The preliminary Brexit deal that Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker announced in Brussels last week is a sign, Gideon argues, that significant adjustments in expectations have occurred on both sides. “The idea that the EU has given Britain nothing in the first phase of the talks is wrong,” he insists. Mrs May’s biggest prize thus far has been the EU’s agreement to a two-year transition period after the UK formally leaves the bloc in March 2019.

In his column, Janan Ganesh argues that the focus will now fall on the question of whether that transition phase will end up lasting a good deal longer than the two years agreed by the prime minister and the president of the European Commission. “You now hear serious people whisper,” Janan observes, “about something closer to five years, or at least the renewability of the initial two.”

He suggests that such an outcome is in the interests of both parties. A carefully managed extended delay would also suit the opposing sides in Britain’s Brexit debate. It would allow Leavers to say the UK is on its way out of the EU, while Remainers could “console themselves with the remoteness of the actual day of exit, and the faint hope of its indefinite postponement.” Watch this space.

Reluctant hegemon: While Germany yawns its way through apparently interminable coalition negotiations, Constanze Stelzenmuller writes, the world’s hotspots continue to get hotter, with serious implications for Europe. In the circumstances, it’s little wonder that other European nations are looking for signs that Germany intends to start pulling its weight on the global stage.

Pax technica: The network of connected devices — fridges, watches, cars etc — known as the “internet of things” is, argues John Thornhill, the most consequential technological development in centuries. And the biggest political question of the age is who will control this emerging “Pax Technica” in which the dominant informational infrastructure is owned by private, not public, entities.

Disposable incomes: As the Japanese business lobby echoes prime minister Shinzo Abe’s call for workers to be given a bigger slice of fattened corporate profits, Leo Lewis explores the enduring popularity of the “houdai” — the “all you can …” retail deal. But if wages do start to rise, “might the companies that favour chasing volume growth with a houdai decide the simplest way to capture a larger portion of this disposable income would just be to raise prices?”

Best of the rest

Do opinion polls matter? — Stephen Bush in the New Statesman

Corsica, the Republic and the challenge of multiple sovereignty — Vincent Laborderie in Le Monde (in French)

The tech giants will never pay their fair share of taxes — unless we make them — David Pegg in The Guardian

‘Coco’ and Mexico’s infatuation with the afterlife — Ilan Stavans in The New York Times

Brussels knows the Brexit bill has strings attached. It would love an excuse to cut them off — Asa Bennett in The Telegraph

What you’ve been saying

How Merkel made me happy to be a German — from Dietrich Stauffer in Cologne, Germany

“Sir, Istvan Dobozi ( Letters, December 4) thinks Angela Merkel’s Willkommenspolitik of autumn 2015 ‘led to thousands of deaths in the watery graves of the Mediterranean’. The International Organization for Migration found from March to October 2015 an exponential increase in the number of migrants across the Aegean Sea. No dent is seen when the German chancellor very publicly told a Palestinian girl that not everybody can stay, and her opening of German borders several weeks later caused no upward deviation. Ms Merkel is responsible for changing the distribution within Europe and for making me, for half a year in my long life, happy to be a German.”

Comment by Sound of the Suburbs on Andrew Hill’s recent column, Toys are still us — a local fable for Christmas

“Investor’s interests and companies interests are not aligned. World beating companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple grew so fast as they constantly re-invested profits, and didn’t pay out dividends to the investor’s dismay. Investor’s main concern is not investing in the system, but on how much they can get out of the system. Activist share holders take this to its ultimate conclusion, and engage in debt leveraged buyouts to strip everything out of the company they can, and leave it loaded up with debt. Just looking after share holders interests doesn’t make for a successful capitalist system. Toys’r’Us was the first casualty and when the tide goes out these hollow shells will start imploding in earnest.”

Find a better use for DNA research — from M J Gomar in Hatfield, Herts, UK

“Rather than spend time and no doubt taxpayers’ money trying to neuter animals that are only doing what comes naturally perhaps they could engineer a human gene to stop idiots throwing food and other waste anywhere other than into proper disposal places.”

Today’s opinion

Finding the best deal in Japan’s all-you-can-eat economy
Tokyo’s retailers rein in their offers as consumers’ disposable income starts to rise

Why a long Brexit transition is in everyone’s interest
London and Brussels should aspire to a trade deal but take their sweet time about it

Germany weighs its coalition options, Europe waits
Its partners await a sign that the country is willing to take a leadership role

David Allen Green’s blog: Britain is squandering credibility as a negotiator

FT Alphaville: Bitcoin contango

The internet of things game puts the rulemakers and the rule takers in the pit
Arguably the most powerful political tool created but will it set us free or lock us up?

Brexit is turning into a civilised divorce
Britain and the EU both want to re-establish an amicable relationship

Free Lunch: The UK has tied its Brexit hands
British government may have secured the best arrangement available to Leavers

Nick Butler’s blog: Natural gas golden age turns to bubble

‘Languages After Brexit’, edited by Michael Kelly
An assessment of linguistic challenges facing the UK and its monolingual majority

FT View

FT View: Venezuela lurches further towards dictatorship
It is vital the international community keeps the pressure on Maduro’s regime

FT View: The Bank of England and a move to Birmingham
Relocating government agencies without real devolution is a gimmick

The Big Read

The Big Read: The decline of the Swiss private bank
A clampdown on tax evasion is forcing the closure of many institutions

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