The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned he “cannot guarantee” there will be a trade deal with the UK. As he briefed national ambassadors and MEPs this morning, the French politician said that significant differences remained. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to speak later this afternoon. In closed-door meetings, Mr Barnier said that about 10 hours of talks with his British counterpart David Frost on Sunday had failed to yield breakthroughs on the main outstanding issues of fishing rights in UK waters and fair competition rules for business.
He told MEPs that the talks were in their final days, with Wednesday the effective deadline, according to one participant at the meeting.
One diplomat said: “The outcome is still uncertain, it can still go both ways.
“The EU is ready to go the extra mile to agree on a fair, sustainable and balanced deal …
“It is for the UK to choose between such a positive outcome or a no deal outcome.”
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said the Prime Minister remained “keen” to secure a trade deal and did not accept that Wednesday was a deadline for the talks.
The spokesman said: “We are prepared to negotiate for as long as we have time available if we think an agreement is still possible.”
He then ruled out any prospect of the talks dragging into 2021.
As the clock ticks down and a no deal scenario looks increasingly likely, eurosceptic Italian MEP Marco Campomenosi told Express.co.uk why he thinks the EU is bluffing.
Mr Campomenosi, who represents Matteo Salvini’s League party in the European Parliament, argued that a deal will be agreed and that MEPs have already been alerted that they will vote on it either before or after Christmas.
He said: “It is clear that Paris is the one slowing down the talks right now.
“It does now want to give Britain back its fishing rights.
“The other sticking points are not as crucial, so it seems like Macron will decide how things go.
JUST IN: Iceland opened door to special fishing partnership for Brexit Britain
If MEPs vote on the Brexit deal after Christmas, it means they will have just a few days to scrutinise the document before the end of the transition period on December 31.
This rushed timetable is causing some disquiet among MEPs, who worry that their votes are being taken for granted.
Valérie Hayer, a French MEP for Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party said: “It’s not easy to work under these conditions, but we’re prepared to do what is necessary.”
Another MEP told the New Statesman: “It is a pity that we will have such little time to look over a deal, but if there is any part of the deal which does not defend European citizens … then we simply will not be able to say yes.”