A post-Brexit trade agreement is looking increasingly unlikely
The terms offered by the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal continue to be ‘unacceptable’, a UK Government source has said.
It comes as negotiators in Brussels enter all night talks in a last-ditch attempt to break the deadlock.
The Prime Minister and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen have both warned that a no-deal outcome looks more likely than an agreement, with the pair having agreed to take a firm decision on the future of the trade talks on Sunday.
As the deadline looms, insiders say progress has not been made on the key sticking points.
A Government source told ITV and Sky News: ‘Talks are continuing overnight, but as things stand the offer on the table from the EU remains unacceptable.
‘The prime minister will leave no stone unturned in this process, but he is absolutely clear: any agreement must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks’ time.’
More discussions are likely on Sunday, with Mr Johnson and Von Der Leyen expected to speak.
It comes after senior Tories reacted with anger over the Prime Minister’s threat to deploy Royal Navy gunboats to patrol UK fishing waters in the event of no-deal.
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that four 80-metre armed vessels have been placed on standby to guard British waters from EU trawlers if no agreement on fishing rights is struck by December 31, when the transition period ends.
Reports also suggested that military helicopter surveillance will be made available and that ministers are considering beefing-up Navy powers to authorise them to board and arrest fishermen found to be contravening post-Brexit rules.
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, called the threat ‘irresponsible’ while former European commissioner Lord Patten accused the Prime Minister of behaving like an ‘English nationalist’.
The trade talks continue to be deadlocked over the thorny issues of fishing rights and the so-called level playing field that would tie the UK to future EU standards.
Reciprocal access to waters will end on January 1, although Brussels has called for the current terms to continue for 12 months – a request that appears to have been rejected.
The decision to ready the Navy for increased territorial patrols – likely to be read as a warning in Brussels over fishing rights – comes after Mr Johnson met senior cabinet officials on Friday afternoon to ‘take stock’ of Government plans for a no-deal exit.
Tories have reacted with anger over plans to deploy the navy to guard UK waters in the event of a no-deal (Picture: REX)
France reportedly shrugged off the plans, with an Elysee official telling the Reuters news agency ‘keep calm and carry on’, quoting the British wartime slogan in response to London’s decision to assign the gunboats.
Meanwhile former Tory chairman Lord Patten accused the Prime Minister of behaving like an ‘English nationalist’ rather than a Conservative in a scathing attack.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘What we’re seeing is Boris Johnson on this runaway train of English exceptionalism and heaven knows where it is going to take us in the end.
‘I want the best for my country, I fear for what’s happening at the moment and I fear for our reputation around the world, I fear for what will happen economically.
‘I hope that I’m wrong to feel so depressed about the outlook but I don’t think that Mr Johnson is a Conservative, I think he is an English nationalist.’
Mr Ellwood, a former defence minister, also voiced his concern about the Royal Navy proposals and urged for the gaps in the negotiations to be bridged before the deadline.
‘I think these headlines are absolutely irresponsible,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We need to be focusing on what is already in the bag – 98% of the deal is there, there are three or four outstanding issues.’
However, others called for the UK to remain tough in its stance.
Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski tweeted on Friday that naval forces should be deployed in the New Year ‘to prevent illegal French fishing in our waters’.
Admiral Lord West, a former chief of naval staff, warned that a no-deal Brexit is likely to end in a ‘punch up’ in the Channel over fishing rights and said he agreed the Navy should be used to protect UK water.
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