Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not walk away from Brexit negotiations today, despite setting a 15 October deadline for reaching an “outline” for a trade deal with the EU.
Johnson signaled that he will not decide whether an agreement with the bloc is possible before today’s EU summit in Brussels, following advice from Brexit envoy Lord Frost.
A Number 10 spokesperson said that the Prime Minister would “take a decision on next steps following the European Council, in light of his conversation with President von der Leyen, and on advice from his negotiating team”.
They added: “Some progress has been made this week, primarily in technical areas of the negotiations, but there are still differences with fisheries being the starkest. Not having a common text to work from has made progress difficult.”
The two-day meeting in Brussels due to begin today will see 27 EU leaders say that “progress on the key issues of interest to the union is still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached”.
Sources said progress had been made in a number of areas, while the key sticking points of fisheries, enforcement of a trade agreement and future state subsidies policy hung heavy on the negotiating table, according to Reuters.
“We want to be reassured on these three topics… we see no movement on the other side of the Channel,” said an EU official.
The Brexit transition period is due to expire on 31 December, at which point the UK will leave the single market without a deal unless an agreement with the EU is reached in the next few weeks.
Any agreement must be approved by the British and European parliaments before the 2021 deadline, with civil servants also requiring time to enshrine a trade deal into legislation.
Both sides now consider the end of October or the first week of November as a more realistic deadline for achieving a deal.
Johnson is set to meet European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen today in crunch talks on the eve of the EU leaders’ summit.
It comes after chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday mocked Johnson for issuing a “third unilateral deadline” for reaching a deal.
Barnier noted that Johnson had twice previously scrapped self-imposed trade agreement deadlines, but added: “We still have time”.
A House of Lords EU subcommittee yesterday warned that failure to achieve a deal before the Brexit transition period deadline would be “catastrophic” for the UK’s £225bn professional services industry.
In a wide-ranging report, the committee accused the government of ignoring the “hugely important sector” — which makes up around 13 per cent of the UK workforce — in trade negotiations with the EU.