Defiant Boris Johnson to prepare for No Deal Brexit within 48 hours as chances of deal on knife edge at 50/50

DEFIANT Boris Johnson will prepare for a No Deal Brexit within 48 hours if talks remain stuck over fish and EU rules.

The PM will hold another crucial call with EU boss Ursula Von Der Leyen in the early evening to discuss how to proceed – where they could decide to throw in the towel.

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The chances of a deal are on a knife edge today as discussions continue in Brussels on sealing a bumper trade deal to come into play in just over three weeks.

But both sides are stuck over crucial issues of fish, sticking to EU rules after we leave, and who decides how to resolve key disputes.

It comes after the PM and Von Der Leyen chatted on Saturday – ordering both teams to get back around the negotiating table to try and seal a deal.

If he decides the gaps cannot be bridged, the PM may push ahead with plans for a No Deal Brexit within days.

He could address the nation to that effect as early as Wednesday evening.

After four years, five months and 14 days of negotiations, a source close to the PM said: “It really is end game stuff now.

"If by close of play Monday there is no movement there’ll at least be a question about whether it’s worth carrying on.

"We’re not going to give in to EU demands preventing us taking back control of the rules Britons live under. It’s as simple as that.”

But in the last 48 hours little seems to have moved.

One EU diplomat said today: "EU-UK negotiations have entered the endgame, time is running out quickly.

“Despite intensive negotiations until late last night, the gaps on level playing field, governance and fisheries are still not bridged. The outcome is still uncertain, it can still go both ways.

“The EU is ready to go the extra mile to agree on a fair, sustainable and balanced deal for citizens in the EU and UK. It is for the UK to chose between such a positive outcome or a no deal outcome."

It comes as:

  • Boris Johnson has vowed to stand firm against French demands over fishing access as talks go down to the wire
  • Last night the EU claimed progress had been made on fish – but this was denied by the UK and later Mr Barnier
  • EU chief negotiator Mr Barnier briefed EU ambassadors this morning but was said to have been pessimistic about the chances of a deal
  • He told MEPs this morning the final deadline for a deal is now Wednesday
  • Michael Gove will dash to Brussels today to speak with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement including the Northern Ireland protocol
  • Writing in today’s Sun, former Brexit Secretary David Davis says: “My message to Boris is simple — stand our ground right to the last day because that will deliver the best outcome.”

Irish premier Micheal Martin, who has been closely following the talks process, warned that they remained on a "knife edge".

He said there appeared to be a "very challenging issue" still to be resolved over the so-called "level playing field" rules on fair competition.

He told RTE: "Things are on a knife edge and it is serious.

"My gut instinct is that it is 50-50 right now. I don't think one can be overly optimistic about a resolution emerging."

And Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney was similarly pessimistic this morning.

He said: “Having heard from Michel Barnier this morning, really the news is very downbeat. I would say he is very gloomy, and obviously very cautious about the ability to make progress today.

“We’ve got to try to make a breakthrough at some point today before the two principals, the Commission president and the prime minister speak later on this evening.

"There is still time."


TIME RUNNING OUT

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has insisted a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU is "nearly there" but that negotiators may not be successful in time.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The vast majority of the elements of this agreement have been resolved and we're now hanging on a small number of important areas where we don't have agreement.

"We're nearly there but we are not quite there yet. And it may well be that we will not be able to resolve this in the timescale we've got, but we're nearly there."

In a joint statement on Saturday from Mr Johnson and president of the European Commission Ms Von Der Leyen, both sides admitted that "significant differences remain on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries".

The statement admitted that no agreement is possible if these issues are not resolved.

Reports suggested they had agreed to a transition period for phasing in changes for access for EU boats to UK waters of between five and seven years.

But the UK slapped down those suggestions.

 A UK Government source said: "There's been no breakthrough on fish. Nothing new has been achieved on this today."

STUCK WITH EU

France insists Britain must be aligned to EU rules on everything from workers’ rights to the environment — without any say.

If Britain strayed, the EU could whack tariffs or sanctions on us.

UK negotiators offered to agree that workers’ rights, plus environmental and animal welfare standards, will not be weakened.

But the PM has told his chief negotiator Lord Frost to refuse anything binding us to future EU rules.

A government source said: “The fact we’ll have control of our own sovereignty and not remain stuck in the lunar pull of the EU until the end of time is the core of what people voted for in terms of Brexit.

BILL BASHING

Later today ministers will bring the Internal Markets Bill back to the House of Commons – with an expected vote around 9pm.

They will put back in clauses removed by the House of Lords which would overwrite parts of the Brexit withdrawal deal – signed last winter – if there is no deal with the EU.

The fresh laws caused uproar, but Britain insists that the clauses will be changed if there's an agreement.

Both sides are racing to secure an agreement before the end of the transition period at the end of the month, when Britain will leave behind huge swathes of EU rules and regulations.

A final EU summit is planned on Thursday to sign off a deal – and if one isn't done then it could force an emergency Christmas meeting onto the agenda.

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