THE UK won’t back down on its Brexit pledge to take back control in the face of the EU’s ‘choreographed charade’, a top minister has this morning vowed.
Environment Secretary George Eustice spoke after crunch talks plunged into crisis this week when the EU tabled fresh demands at the 11th hour – with sources warning both sides face “the final throw of the dice”.
Negotiations resume in Brussels today after Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen ordered a push to try to overcome the remaining differences.
The two leaders – who spoke for over an hour yesterday in an attempt to break the stalemate – are due to hold a further phone call on Monday evening to assess whether an agreement is possible.
It comes as:
- Sources say the UK and the EU face the “final throw of the dice”
- Negotiations resume in Brussels today as the PM and Ursula von der Leyen book in a chat on the phone tomorrow
- Chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier face crunch-time talks as time rapidly runs out
- Mr Johnson’s ministers ‘say they’ll back him for a no-deal Brexit’
- The French are blamed for the 11th hour stumbling blocks
But Mr Eustice has admitted Britain is in a “very difficult position” – and negotiators won’t back down on issues including fishing and the level playing field.
And he’s hinted that if the PM’s evening calls fail, but a deal seems possible, talks could be extended.
Time is rapidly running out before the Brexit transition period concludes at the end of the month, and the chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are meeting in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the remaining issues.
However, the Sunday Times reports that the PM has “100 per cent rock-solid support” from his cabinet if he decides to go ahead with a no-deal Brexit.
It’s claimed the 13 ministers – including eight who voted to remain – say they will back Mr Johnson’s decision in the event negotiations fail.
“Just get it done,” one is reported to have said. “The PM should do what is best. He has total, 100 per cent rock-solid support”.
Despite the backing, Mr Eustice called the developments in negotiations a “setback” in an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky.
“There was hope last week that some progress was being made, and it looked like there might be a breakthrough, but then EU added a whole load of additional demands,” he said.
And he even suggested UK negotiators could walk out of talks altogether, saying they “will continue to work until there’s no point doing so any more”.
Asked if the breakdown in talks is a “charade”, he replied: “We will find out in next day or two whether it’s an exercise the EU has engaged in, maybe to have one final try to get a few more things over the line.
“Whether it’s a choreographed thing on their part to say they tried before they back down, who knows.”
But he said there’ll be no negotiation on issues of sovereignty, including the UK’s ability to control its own laws and access to waters.
“If we cannot get deal we will leave, as the Prime Minister has said, on Australia terms,” he said.
“We will be ready to do so if that’s what transpires.”
Speaking later on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show he added: “I think we probably are now in the final few days in terms of deciding whether there can be an agreement.
“Of course if the ambience warms up again and actually great progress is made and it is just about sorting out the detail, then you can always find more time, you can always extend.
“But I think unless we can resolve these quite fundamental divergences at the moment then we are going to have to take a position in the next few days.”
In a joint statement following their call yesterday, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen acknowledged “significant differences” remained on fishing rights, competition rules and the mechanisms for resolving disputes.
“Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved,” they said.
“Whie recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.”
Ahead of the meeting however, British sources warned there was no guarantee they would succeed.
“This is the final throw of the dice,” said one UK source close to the negotiations.
“There is a fair deal to be done that works for both sides, but this will only happen if the EU is willing to respect the fundamental principles of sovereignty and control.”
And earlier this week, Brit officials said hopes of a deal were “receding”.
Talks hit a snag when EU negotiators introduced new demands for Britain to stick to EU standards after Brexit.
The terms would severely limit the UK Government’s ability to support struggling industries and keep us tied to EU rules for years.
And Brussels was still refusing to accept Britain’s offer for EU fishing boats to keep 40 per cent of their catch in UK seas.
Sources blamed France for the spanner in the works.
It came after EU countries began to turn on each other publicly, with Ireland slamming Emmanuel Macron’s hardline approach.
Sources close to the UK team said the talks were on the verge of collapse.
A senior government source said: “At the 11th hour, the EU is bringing new elements into the negotiation.
“A breakthrough is still possible in the next few days but that prospect is receding.”
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Tomorrow MPs will vote on whether to overturn amendments by the House of Lords which removed the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the Irish border.
MPs will then go on later in the week to consider the Taxation (Post-Transition Period) Bill which contains further similar provisions.
The legislation has infuriated the EU and – if it is passed – could further sour the mood in the negotiations making a deal harder to reach.