Brexit trade talks are set to be concluded today, with insiders pessimistic that a deal between the UK and EU can be completed by December 31. Should a pact not be agreed, the UK would begin trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms in the New Year. Mr Johnson, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged this was now the most likely outcome, admitting the two parties were still far apart on key sticking points to get a deal over the line.
The talks have been ongoing for three years now, and appear hinged over issues such as fishing rights – with the UK wishing to “take back control” of its waters.
But Estonian MEP Jaak Madison accused the EU’s negotiators, who are led by Michel Barnier, of focusing too much on fishing, insisting that the UK had been faring “pretty fine” since it officially left the bloc earlier this year.
He said: “The EU is trying to play as a tough guy, but at the same time couldn’t manage any normal deal.
Mr Madison, a eurosceptic, added: “It’s pretty clear and understandable that if there is no deal before the end of the year, the EU is losing much more than the UK is doing.
“In some way, I’m pretty happy with that, so congratulations to Mr Johnson – thank you.”
The row over trade will reach its climax on Sunday, with Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen set to confirm what the outcome will be.
An insider in the Government argued that Mr Johnson would “leave no stone unturned in this process”, adding: “Any agreement must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks’ time.”
Other observers claim “the energy seems to be draining out” of talks, with Philip Rycroft, who led the UK Department for Exiting the European Union for two years, claiming that “if we were heading for a deal, you’d be seeing a lot more diplomatic activity”.
Previously, Mr Johnson said: “What I’ve said to our negotiators is that we’ve got to keep going, and we’ll go the extra mile – and we will.
“And I will go to Brussels, I will go to Paris, I will go to Berlin, I will go to wherever to try and get this home and get a deal.
“What I told the Cabinet this evening is to get on and make those preparations. We’re not stopping talks, we’ll continue to negotiate but looking at where we are I do think it’s vital that everyone now gets ready for that Australian option [no deal].”
According to some sources, the talks have been stalled by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is “determined to make Britain crawl across broken glass” as opposed to reaching an agreement.
The insider close to the UK’s negotiating team added: “We thought this would be the moment.
“But they just weren’t interested. They won’t accept that Brexit means setting our own rules.
“We could set up all sorts of dispute recognition systems to make sure the new plan was fair, but the root of the problem seems to be Merkel herself: she doesn’t trust Boris.”