Boris Johnson will head to Brussels for last-ditch talks to try personally to salvage a Brexit deal after negotiators failed to make any “tangible progress” on December 6.
The Prime Minister will meet Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, for a summit that could define not only his premiership but Britain’s place in the world for decades to come.
Both sides said that “significant differences” remain, and British officials said that while Mr Johnson would not be making the trip if he did not think a deal could be agreed, “things are looking very tricky”.
The Prime Minister ordered his Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, to head to Brussels on December 6 for 48 hours of “intensive” discussions with EU counterpart Michel Barnier in a last-ditch bid to stop the UK leaving the jurisdiction of the European Union without a trade deal on December 31.
The EU backed down over post-Brexit fishing arrangements on December 6 – but the chances of a trade deal remained “on a knife edge”, with other key issues unresolved.
Sources in Brussels said talks on fish were “closing in” on a political agreement, but there were warnings that no progress had been made on the far bigger problem of the “level playing field”, meaning the two sides could still end the talks without a deal.
The EU had demanded unfettered access to Britain’s waters for 10 years when the British team was ambushed with a set of last-minute demands on December 3. Talks were paused as a result but, when the two sides resumed negotiations in Brussels on December 6, the EU signalled that it was ready to compromise on its fishing demands.
British sources have suggested that finding an agreement on fishing was “the easier part” of closing out a deal, warning that the issue of “level playing field” guarantees was an “existential threat” to British sovereignty, which will only be resolved if Mr Macron and other leaders make a significant shift.
British sources had set December 7 as an unofficial deadline for a deal to be reached or the UK will leave the transition period without a deal on January 1.
However, a senior Government source said they could go on until December 9 if it became clear that a deal was close.
Furthermore, Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has echoed the comments of an EU diplomat, saying Michel Barnier was “very downbeat” about Brexit progress. He shared that Mr Barnier is “very gloomy, and obviously very cautious about the ability to make progress”.
As talks have continued, the UK government has expressed that they are now willing to remove three controversial clauses from the Internal Market Bill as an olive branch offering.
Will a no-deal Brexit affect the Covid-19 vaccine?
Even in the result of a no-deal Brexit, the UK is carrying out “extensive plans” to guarantee vaccines will still come to Britain from Europe.
In an interview with Sky News, the Foreign Office minister revealed: “We are committed to make sure we get that vaccine supply, it’s an absolute priority product.” He also shared there are “independent travel plans”, including some non-commercial flights to ensure the jabs reach the UK safely.