Downing Street insisted Brexit trade talks were entering ‘the final hours’ last night and it was ‘increasingly likely’ that the UK would leave the bloc without a deal after the EU tried to mount a last-minute ambush over fishing rights.
Government sources said it was ‘widely expected’ that the negotiations would conclude ‘one way or another’ before Christmas, but that no agreement was imminent.
No 10 was infuriated by an ultimatum from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that would have allowed Brussels to impose ‘lightning tariffs’ on London if the Government restricted access to UK fishing waters.
A source said: ‘Talks have become stuck due to unreasonable EU demands on areas such as subsidies and fisheries.
‘We need to get any deal right and based on terms which respect what the British people voted for.
No 10 was infuriated by an ultimatum from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured) that would have allowed Brussels to impose ‘lightning tariffs’ on London if the Government restricted access to UK fishing waters
A catch is unloaded at the fishing port at Bridlington Harbour in Yorkshire, after Boris Johnson warned that talks with the European Union on a trade deal were proving ‘very tricky’
‘Unfortunately, the EU are still struggling to get the flexibility needed from member states and are continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence.
‘We cannot accept a deal that doesn’t leave us in control of our own laws or waters.
‘We’re continuing to try every possible path to an agreement, but without a substantial shift from the Commission we will be leaving on World Trade Organisation terms on December 31.’
But many Brexiteers on the Tory backbenches fear Mr Johnson will ‘sell them out’ by agreeing to a poor deal. Yesterday, former Cabinet Minister Theresa Villiers warned that this decision would be Mr Johnson’s ‘Churchill moment’.
Some on Tory Brexiteer WhatsApp groups warned that the Prime Minister could ‘shaft’ them.
Ms Villiers sought to remind Mr Johnson of the historic nature of the decision he would have to make by referring to Winston Churchill, one of his heroes. She told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It’s all on Boris. History will judge his premiership on the choice he makes in this negotiation. It will overshadow everything else he ever does.
EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic attends a debate on the future relation between the EU and UK at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels on December 18
‘He can either hold out and ensure we take back control of our laws, or he can give ground and leave us trapped in the regulatory orbit of the EU. He promised to ‘get Brexit done’ and the next few days will determine whether or not he does. If ever there was a Churchill moment, this is it.’ There has been anger that if a deal is reached this weekend, MPs unable to come to Westminster because of sickness will be barred from the debate on the settlement under current rules.
Former Tory Cabinet Minister Cheryl Gillan, who cannot attend, said she was ‘furious’, adding: ‘To silence MPs is just not right.’
Commons anti-virus measures let MPs ask questions by video-link but bar them from taking part in actual debates on legislation.
Any Brexit deal is expected to require a Bill to be passed by both the Commons and the Lords.
Under social-distancing rules, only 50 MPs are allowed in the Chamber at one time – suggesting that only a fraction of the 650-strong Commons would get the chance to speak on the legislation.
Britain’s Chief Negotiator of Task Force Europe, David Frost leaves the UK Mission ahead of a meeting with Mr Barnier
Attempts to allow MPs with serious medical conditions to take part in debates remotely collapsed, with the Tories and Labour blaming each other for the impasse. Ms Villiers said: ‘If an agreement is reached, it is crucial that MPs have the time to scrutinise and debate every page.
‘This is one of the biggest constitutional changes for decades and Parliament must not be bounced into making hasty decisions.
‘A way must also be found which ensures that MPs isolating because of Covid can play their part.’
However, sources said last night that following the decision to put London into tier 4 Covid restrictions, there were plans to lift the ban on MPs debating via video-link. A source said: ‘That does seem sensible given yesterday’s decision.’
All absent MPs will be able to vote on Brexit deal legislation by nominating a proxy to walk through the voting lobby on their behalf.