Boris Johnson and EU leaders have agreed to continue Brexit talks until Sunday, after a “frank discussion” in Brussels.
Ahead of a dinner with EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, the prime minister said he was confident “a good deal” was still there to be done – despite the time constraint on negotiations.
Disagreements on fishing rights, business competition rules and how a deal will be policed were the subject of a three-hour dinner between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen this evening.
The hope was that the deadlock could be broken at a political level, paving the way for negotiators to hammer out the details this week.
Those inside the room on the night were glum on the prospect of a breakthrough, however.
‘Very large gaps remain’
One senior Number 10 source said: “The prime minister and von der Leyen had a frank discussion about the significant obstacles which remain in the negotiations.
“Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged.
“The PM and von der Leyen agreed to further discussions over the next few days between their negotiating teams.
“The PM does not want to leave any route to a possible deal untested.
“The PM and von der Leyen agreed that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks.”
Mr Johnson, speaking at prime minister’s questions earlier on Wednesday, warned, that the EU would have to move on several issues.
He said: “Our friends in the EU are currently insisting that if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or don’t follow suit, then they want the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate.
“Secondly, they are saying that the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters.
“I don’t believe that those are terms that any prime minister of this country should accept.”
He again insisted the UK would “prosper mightily” with or without a deal – a claim that has been disputed by economic experts including the Office for Budget Responsibility and the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey.
Failure to reach agreement would see tariffs imposed on UK exports to the EU, the country’s biggest trading partner, and could also increase bureaucracy.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, speaking in the Commons, claimed Scotland is “being shafted” by not having a Brexit arrangement in place similar to Northern Ireland.
He said: “Yesterday, by this government’s own admission, it was confirmed that Northern Ireland is getting the best of both worlds – access to the EU single market and customs union.
“This is great news in Northern Ireland but it leaves Scotland, who also voted to remain, leaving with the hardest of Brexits.
“What is good for Northern Ireland is surely good enough for Scotland. Why is Scotland being shafted by this double dealing? Can the prime minister explain to Scottish businesses why this is fair?”
Mr Johnson responded: “In common with the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland will benefit from substantial access, of devolved powers for Scotland and will benefit from the regaining of money, borders and laws.
“As I never tire of telling Mr Blackford, in spite of all his jeering, Scotland will take back control of colossal quantities of fish.”
Mr Blackford responded by asking the prime minister if he expected there to be resignations within his party if Scotland is denied access to the EU single market and customs union.
He said: “Ruth Davidson said that such an act would undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom. The former Scottish Tory constitution spokesperson said it would be the end of the union. They, along with the former Scottish Secretary, said if this were to happen, they would all resign.
“Does he expect to receive these resignation letters from Baroness Davidson or her cohorts before or after he travels to Brussels tonight?”
Mr Johnson responded: “In spite of the slight negativity I detect from him, I believe Scotland along with the rest of the UK will benefit from a very strong trading relationship with our friends and partners across the channel, whatever the circumstances, whatever the terms we reach tonight.”