The prime minister will travel to Brussels for face-to-face talks with the European Commission president in a final attempt to secure a post-Brexit trade and security deal.
Boris Johnson’s trip “in the coming days” raises hopes that a deal can still be struck despite another 90 minute phone call with Ursula von der Leyen failing to make a breakthrough.
“We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries”, a statement released by the PM and EC president said.
“We asked our Chief Negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”
‘Sufficient grounds for PM to make the trip’
The Guardian suggests the meeting will be on Wednesday and follows Johnson taking a break from his call with von der Leyen to confirm with his aides “that there were sufficient grounds to make the trip.”
This is being interpreted as a positive sign for the chances of reaching a deal and comes after the UK government offered to drop the controversial clauses in the Internal Market Bill that will break international law.
The clauses were removed from the bill by the Lords but they will be reinserted by when the bill returns to the Commons tomorrow (Tuesday). The Telegraph reports Johnson “will make it clear that ‘safety nets can be removed’ if they are no longer needed”.
The EU has already started legal action over the internal market bill so reinserting the offending clauses – combined with a finance bill that also has clauses that break the withdrawal agreement – “will be seen in Brussels as an aggressive move”.
Barnier – ‘talks aren’t far from the very endgame’
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier earlier today warned that Wednesday will be the last day for talks after he set out a “downbeat” assessment of the chances of achieving a deal.
Barnier told MEPs that talks were “not far from the very endgame” with the final EU leaders summit of the year being held in Brussels on Thursday, regarded as the deadline.
Earlier today, cabinet minister Michael Gove dashed to Brussels for talks with EC vice president Maroš Šefčovič about the Irish border, while Ireland’s taoiseach Micheál Martin repeated his belief that a deal is “in the best interests of all concerned” and warned that “our respective economies would suffer, unnecessarily” without a deal.
“A deal can be arrived at,” said Martin. “It would be a significant failure if we were to end up with no deal.”
Any deal will have to be ratified by both Houses of Parliament as well as by the leaders of the EU’s 27 nation states. The transition period ends on December 31.