Britain’s Brexit chief is travelling to Brussels today for 36 hours of talks in a “final throw of the dice” to prevent no-deal.
Lord David Frost was due to resume talks this morning with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after they broke down on Friday.
No10 have reportedly discussed the possibility of the Prime Minister confirming no-deal in a televised address to the nation.
And the ‘XO’ no-deal planning committee chaired by Michael Gove could move from daily meetings to sitting “almost round the clock”, according to the Sunday Times.
Much of a UK-EU trade deal is agreed but there are still “significant differences” on three issues – fishing rights, the ‘level playing field’ of following EU standards, and how any deal will be policed in future.
Any of those three could collapse the talks and time is running out – with 25 days until EU trade rules expire in the UK on December 31.
That will slap tariffs and bureaucracy overnight on much of the £660bn a year in trade the UK enjoys with the EU, from food to clothes, cars and electronics. The Budget watchdog says it could cut GDP by 2% in 2021 and delay our Covid recovery by almost a year.
Boris Johnson failed to break the deadlock in an hour-long phone call last night – but agreed to a final push until Monday evening.
He and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will decide then if there’s enough progress on three sticking points.
A British official told the Sunday Telegraph: “There is barely any time left, and there is no doubt that this process may not end in agreement”.
A UK source accused the EU of not treating Britain as in “independent country” and making last-minute demands.
Environment Secretary George Eustice today admitted Brexit talks were “in a very difficult position, there’s no point denying that.”
Blaming the EU, he told Sky News “it looked like there might be a breakthrough” last week but then the EU “added a whole load of additional demands.”
But an EU official accused Boris Johnson of “still wanting to have his cake and eat it”, four and a half years after the EU referendum.
The official told the Sunday Times: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The question is whether there is a will”.
UK Brexiteers are now steeling themselves for a no-deal situation despite Boris Johnson claiming in 2017: “There is no plan for no deal because we are going to get a great deal.”
The hardline European Research Group of MPs said last night: “We have nothing to fear from freedom.”
And 13 Tory Cabinet ministers told the Sunday Times they would support a no-deal outcome if Boris Johnson says it is necessary.
Boris Johnson is also pressing ahead with plans to introduce a law to the Commons tomorrow allowing him to break international law.
The UK Internal Market Bill would give the UK power to decide what rules apply to goods moving from Britain to Northenr Ireland.
Only a year ago the Withdrawal Agreement, signed by Boris Johnson with the EU, promised that’d happen via a joint committee.
While the row isn’t strictly about trade deal talks, it could create more anger and be a roadblock to any last-minute diplomacy.
Even if a deal is agreed this week there are questions over how it’ll be ratified by EU leaders and the European Parliament in time.
There was already talk weeks ago of a special European Parliament sitting between Christmas and New Year.
EU and UK leaders had originally hoped to seal a deal first by mid-October, then by mid-November.
EU leaders are due to meet on Thursday for a two-day summit in Brussels – their last scheduled gathering of the year – when they could sign-off on any agreement.
The deadlock led to crisis talks last night between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
In an hour-long phone call, the two leaders agreed to instruct their negotiating teams to resume talks on Sunday in a last attempt to see if they can resolve the remaining differences.
With time rapidly running out before the Brexit transition period ends at the end of the month, British sources warned that the process may still conclude without an agreement.
“This is the final throw of the dice,” said one source close to the negotiations.
“There is a fair deal to be done that works for both sides, but this will only happen if the EU is willing to respect the fundamental principles of sovereignty and control.”
In a joint statement following their call, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen acknowledged “significant differences” remained on the key issues of fishing rights, competition rules and the governance arrangements for any deal.
“Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved,” they said.
“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.
“We are therefore instructing our chief negotiators to reconvene tomorrow in Brussels. We will speak again on Monday evening.”
While in the past much of the focus has been on the differences over fisheries, British sources indicated they would be looking particularly at the so-called “level playing field” rules on issues like state aid for business.
While the two sides have been circling round the key issues for months, it was is unclear from the statement whether either – or both – of the two leaders had been prepared to shift ground in a way that would enable them to bridge the gaps.
Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves called on both sides to resolve their differences as swiftly as possible.
“The British people were promised a deal and, with time running out, we urge both sides to get on with reaching an agreement,” she said.