Emmanuel Macron and Merkel keep Brexit off EU summit agenda despite looming deadline

and have agreed Britain’s departure from the bloc will not be open for discussion at the talks which get underway on Thursday. Brussels insiders said the decision was made during a call between Mr Macron, Ms Merkel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

The approach suggests the leaders are keen not to see Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate changed at the last minute.

The four-way conference call came before Ms von der Leyen and Boris Johnson agreed to meet in Brussels in a last-ditch effort to try and reach a trade agreement.

The summit agenda is understood to include the coronavirus pandemic and carbon emissions targets.

With the prospects of a final agreement still in the balance, Brexit negotiations have made little progress in recent days as significant differences between the two sides remain on the issues of fisheries, a competitive level playing field, and how to enforce a deal.

Mr Johnson will meet Ms von der Leyen in Brussels tomorrow to continue their talks in person after the UK Government dropped controversial plans that would have allowed ministers to break international law.

Mr Barnier warned EU foreign ministers that he now believes a no deal departure is more likely than a trade agreement being brokered in time.

But both sides set the stage for a potentially make-or-break dinner in the Belgian capital tomorrow night.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM will travel to Brussels tomorrow for dinner with VDL to continue discussions on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.”

Ms von der Leyen said: “We will continue our discussion on the Partnership Agreement.”

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The attempt to salvage a deal with face-to-face talks come after a lengthy phone call failed to break the deadlock in negotiations led by Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.

Lord Frost was heading back to London today to discuss the remaining differences in reaching a free trade deal with Mr Johnson.

The Prime Minister said he hoped the “power of sweet reason” would triumph but Brussels had to accept there were limits to what terms the UK would be prepared to accept.

Talks have faltered on the issues of fishing rights, the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies, and the way that any deal would be governed.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has suggested that a no deal situation could wipe 2 percent off gross domestic product in 2021.

Bank governor Andrew Bailey has warned that the long-term damage caused by a no deal situation would be worse than the economic hit from coronavirus.

But Mr Johnson urged people to “be in good cheer” as there were “great options ahead” for the country.

Germany European affairs minister Michael Roth said “political will in London” was needed to get a deal.

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