EU 'to push the button' on no deal contingency plans at crunch summit

Brexiteers accuse Ursula von der Leyen of ‘blackmail’ after EU demands to carry on fishing in UK waters for a year even if there is NO DEAL in return for just six months of lorries and air links running freely as talks with PM fail

  • EU leaders meeting for summit after Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen failed to break Brexit deadlock
  • PM and Ms von der Leyen met for more than three hours last night amid desperate attempt to thrash out a deal
  • The leaders agreed that a final decision will be taken by Sunday on whether to pull the plug on the Brexit talks 
  • They admitted that ‘very large gaps remain’ but have ordered negotiators to reengage for four more days  
  • EU commission has published no deal contingency plans as concerns escalate over the consequences
  • Dominic Raab dismissed ‘scare stories’ about risk of food shortages and played down reports of stockpiling

What are the EU’s No Deal contingency plans? 

Air travel and safety 

 Air traffic will be ‘interrupted’ if there are no contingency measures in place on air transport at the end of the transition period, the commission says.

It has proposed a measure to allow the provision of certain air services between the UK and EU for six months.

It would allow air carriers from the UK to fly across the bloc without landing, make stops for non-traffic purposes and perform scheduled and non-scheduled international passenger and cargo services between points in the United Kingdom and points in the EU.

The commission has also proposed measures to ensure various safety certificates for products can continue to be used in EU aircraft – stopping the grounding of planes. 

Road freight 

Basic connections by road freight and for road passengers would also continue for six months as long as they are reciprocal. 

Separate regulations, if approved by EU member states, would keep the Channel Tunnel road and rail links open for two months, until Britain and France agree new safety and supervision certificates.

Without a trade deal and without regulation, the under-sea link between France and Britain would be suspended.


The commission also said it was proposing ‘to create the appropriate legal framework’ for ‘continued reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters after 31 December 2020’ – or until a ‘fisheries agreement with the UK has been concluded’.

The idea looks to be a quid pro quo for easing the impact on the UK in other areas.

The default legal position on January 1 is that EU fleets have no access to UK waters.  

Support for EU businesses 

The EU has confirmed proposals for a five billion euro ‘Brexit Adjustment Reserve’ to help businesses adapt.

Brexiteers accused Ursula von der Leyen of trying to ‘blackmail’ the UK today as she pushed the button on the EU’s No Deal plans – and urged increasingly panicky member states not to do ‘side deals’ with the UK.

The furious response came after the commission president warned the situation was ‘difficult’ after a three-hour dinner with Boris Johnson failed to make any headway last night.

Arriving for a Brussels summit today, she insisted leaders would discuss the situation later, after a ‘final’ deadline of Sunday was set to come up with a way of settling the disputes over level playing field provisions, fishing rights and enforcement.  

The comments came as the EU published contingency plans, with what appeared to be an offer to smooth disruption to freight and air travel in return for ongoing access to UK waters.

The regulations would mean air safety measures would continue to be recognised, to avoid grounding planes, and carriers would still be able to fly over both  territories.

Basic connections by road freight and for road passengers would also continue for six months as long as they are reciprocal. Separate regulations, if approved by EU member states, would keep the Channel Tunnel road and rail links open for two months, until Britain and France agree new safety and supervision certificates.

But in an apparent trade off the commission said it was proposing ‘to create the appropriate legal framework’ for ‘continued reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters after 31 December 2020’ – or until a ‘fisheries agreement with the UK has been concluded’.

As it stands, legally EU fleets have no access to the UK’s sovereign waters after December 31. 

The documents also include a plea for increasingly restive states not to strike side deals with the UK that could mitigate the impact, saying that could ‘fragment’ the single market. 

But Tory MP David Jones, one of the heads of the influential Eurosceptic ERG group, told MailOnline: ‘The EU’s proposals confirm that they have still not come to terms with the fact that we are no longer a member state. 

‘They are proposing arrangements that benefit them more than they do us, but are still demanding that we adhere to their level playing field. 

‘They are demanding our fish while offering nothing of substance in return. 

‘This is outrageous conduct – almost blackmail – and our government should have nothing to do with it.’

The plans emerged as Dominic Raab accused the EU of failing to respect ‘democracy’ by demanding unacceptable concessions on UK sovereignty.

Mr Raab lashed out at ‘scare stories’ about food shortages during a round of interviews. 

He played down warnings that the public is already stockpiling essential goods.   

‘On the fisheries, we’ve accepted that there needs to be some sort of transitional period but we must be able to control access to our own waters,’ he said.

‘We’ve agreed that we’d follow the EU’s approach to free trade deals with countries like Canada and Korea in relation to the so called level playing field requirements.

‘What we’re not going to be treated… is in a way that no other country would accept, and nor would the EU accept.

‘It’s about some basic respect for democratic principles.

‘We’re ready to leave the transition period – we would much prefer a deal, no stone is being left unturned – but otherwise we’ll make a success of Brexit on Australian-style rules.’

Mr Raab said he would not ‘categorically rule out any more talks after Sunday, but it was ‘unlikely’. 

Mr Johnson and EU commission chief Usula von der Leyen took stock of the dire situation for more than three hours as they dined on steamed turbot and scallops – the source of many skirmishes between UK and French fishing boats – in the Belgian capital last night. 

But the pair could not find a way through the impasse, and instead ordered Michel Barnier and Lord Frost to re-engage, on the understanding that unless a resolution has emerged by Sunday the plug will be pulled.   

Despite the grim mood music, there have been hopes that the talks can still be rescued if new political instructions emerge from the meeting of EU leaders today and tomorrow.

But there are also fears that Emmanuel Macron – seen as the most hawkish on no deal – could see the summit as a platform for a De Gaulle-style ‘non’ moment.

French diplomats have suggested that the damage to the UK from no deal will be so great that Mr Johnson will crawl back to the negotiating table within months.

However, Downing Street has flatly ruled out any more negotiations happening in 2021 if this round fails.   

Ursula von der Leyen was seen deep in conversation with French president Emmanuel Macron (left) at the EU summit today 

Ms von der Leyen published the EU’s no deal plans today as tensions rise with the UK ahead of the transition period ending

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen seemed to be in a cheerful mood ahead of their meeting in Brussels – but it did not produce any movement in the trade talks

The deadlock on Brexit is continuing today despite the last-ditch diplomacy from Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Brussels last night

As the leaders posed for pictures, Ms von der Leyen reminded him of the need for social distancing – with Brussels in the midst of a tough coronavirus lockdown

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen remove their mask as they meet in the Berlaymont building at the EU headquarters in Brussels

Ms von der Leyen today published no deal contingency plans in another sign that the crisis is deepening 

Something fishy going on? EU serve PM seafood-dominated dinner of scallops and turbot amid fishing rights row 

Fish has proved one of the most difficult parts of a Brexit trade deal to swallow for the negotiating teams, but it was served to Boris Johnson on a plate during crunch talks in Brussels.

The PM dined on a starter of scallops and a main course of steamed turbot when he met with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The two leaders were joined by their chief negotiators and officials for the three-course dinner at the Berlaymont building aimed at breaking the deadlock in the protracted trade deal talks.

Negotiations have faltered on fishing rights, among other issues, and the Commission’s menu will be seen as a pointed gesture by some but a sign that it has a sense of humour by others.

Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen were served pumpkin soup and scallops to start, followed by a main course of steamed turbot, mashed potatoes with wasabi and vegetables. 

For pudding they ate pavlova with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet, but the Commission stopped short of serving the Eton Mess – believed to originate from the PM’s alma mater.

The starter may invoke memories of the ‘scallop wars’ in 2018 when British and French fishing fleets clashed in a dispute about access to fishing grounds in the Baie de Seine.

But the fish-themed menu will certainly remind Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen of the headache they face in reaching an agreement on access to the UK’s waters after December 31.   

Mr Raab said the Prime Minister would ‘leave no stone unturned’ in the search for a deal but ‘significant differences’ remain.

He told Sky News: ‘We are not going to sacrifice the basic points of democratic principle on fisheries, on control over our laws as we leave the transition period.

‘I think it’s important that is recognised on the EU side and if they do I think the scope for a deal is still there to be done.’

But so far ‘frankly we have not seen enough pragmatism and flexibility on the EU side’.

The Foreign Secretary sought to play down the impact on food prices, but acknowledged there will be ‘bumps along the road’.

Tesco chairman John Allan suggested food bills could rise by as much as 5 per cent as a result of the tariffs and disruption from a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Raab told the BBC ‘I don’t think that’s a figure that we recognise’ and tariffs would be a ‘very minor proportion’ of food prices.

He said: ‘Of all the things that will be a challenge, I am not concerned about either supermarket cupboards running bare or the cost of food prices.

‘Equally, there will be some bumps along the road if we don’t get a free trade deal, that’s the inevitable consequence of change.

‘But we will be well braced and well prepared to deal with those, and we are going to make a success of leaving the transition period, come what may.’

Mr Raab conceded that EU coronavirus rules on travel from non-member states could disrupt Britons. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Covid restrictions will depend on the combination of what the EU decides, but also member states.

‘We have already got challenges with that and we have put our own restrictions in place.’

He acknowledged that coronavirus ‘remains a live issue and we need to make sure we have got control of it’.

‘I’m afraid restriction on travel, inevitably, is going to be something that is kept under review.’

Asked whether that would mean Britons will find it difficult to go to the European mainland he said: ‘It all depends on the prevalence of the virus in those continental European countries.’

As leaders arrived for the summit in Brussels, Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven said he was ‘gloomy’ about the prospects for an agreement.

‘It’s a difficult situation,’ he said as he arrived at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

Mr Lofven said: ‘I’m a bit more gloomy today. As far as I can hear there is no progress made in the recent days.

‘It’s problematic, of course, so that is a huge challenge.

‘We have always said that we are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best.’

Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda contingency plans must be ‘ready to implement from the first minute’.

As concerns about the consequences of no deal escalated, Ms von der Leyen tweeted: ‘Negotiations are still ongoing but the end of the transition is near. 

‘There is no guarantee that if & when an agreement is found it can enter into force on time. 

‘We have to be prepared including for not having a deal in place on 1 January.’  

The EU plans today proposed keeping ‘certain air services’ between Britain and the EU for up to six months, provided London ensures the same. 

Air safety measures would continue to be recognised, to avoid grounding aircraft. 

The measures would allow carriers to continue to fly over each others’ territories, make stops and provide services.

Basic connections by road freight and for road passengers would also continue for six months as long as they are reciprocal. Separate regulations, if approved by EU member states, would keep the Channel Tunnel road and rail links open for two months, until Britain and France agree new safety and supervision certificates.

Ms von der Leyen chatted to another key power player, Angela Merkel (left) at the summit in Brussels today

In a round of interviews today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the EU for demanding unacceptable concessions on UK sovereignty, saying progress can only be made on trade talks if it is more ‘pragmatic and flexible’

Without a trade deal and without regulation, the under-sea link between France and Britain would be suspended.

The commission also said it was proposing ‘to create the appropriate legal framework’ for ‘continued reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters after 31 December 2020’ – or until a ‘fisheries agreement with the UK has been concluded’.

And it confirmed proposals for a five billion euro ‘Brexit Adjustment Reserve’ to help EU businesses adapt.

What are the sticking points in Brexit talks? 


The UK has insisted that it will take back control of its coastal waters from the end of the transition period.

But the EU was demanding its fleets maintain previous levels of access – with Emmanuel Macron under particular pressure from the French fishing industry.   

Initially the UK said it wanted to reclaim 80 per cent of the EU quotas from January 1.

However, Brussels suggested that only 18 per cent should be restored.

The two sides are thought to be close to a ‘landing zone’ that includes a transition period, perhaps of five or seven years. However, there is no settlement yet.


The EU has insisted the UK commits to ‘level playing field’ provisions, guaranteeing that it will not undercut businesses with lower environmental standards and regulation.

State aid has emerged as a particular issue, especially as coronavirus puts swathes of the economy unviable. 

But the UK says it must regain sovereign powers to decide on rules, even though it has no plans to lower standards or warp competition by subsidising the private sector. 

It appeared this area was close to resolution last week, before France reportedly laid down a series of extra conditions including huge punishments for breaking the rules.

Although the UK is happy with ‘non-regression’ – meaning current standards are accepted as a baseline – it has dismissed demands to obey rules made by the bloc in future. 


The enforcement of any deal, and who decides whether rules are broken, has been one of the flashpoints from the start.

Breaking free of the European Court of Justice was among the biggest demands of Brexiteers from the referendum. 

But the EU has been pushing to keep control of the governance, as well as insisting on tough fines and punitive tariffs for breaches.

The situation has been inflamed by the row over the UK’s Internal Market Bill, which gives ministers the power to override the previous Brexit divorce terms to prevent blockages between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Critics say that demonstrated why the enforcement mechanisms must be potent – which is why ministers had considered it important the issue was resolved. 

Downing Street said it would examine the proposals. But the PM’s spokesman added: ‘I think as we’ve said throughout the negotiations, once we leave the end of the transition period, we will take back control of our waters. 

‘We would never accept arrangements and access to UK fishing waters which are incompatible with our status as an independent coastal state.’ 

Former chancellor Lord Lamont said the idea of agreeing reciprocal access without a trade deal seemed ‘extraordinary’. He told Sky News the legal position was that ‘the Eu has no access to our fishing waters’ from January 1.  

The EU commission also delivered a stark message that individual member states must not strike side deals with the UK, warning that could ‘fragment or undermine the single market’.

‘One core principle of national measures should be their temporary nature,’ the documents said. 

‘A second principle is that the United Kingdom should not draw similar benefits from such measures as the ones offered by the union in the negotiations on the future agreement. 

‘National measures should also take into account the overarching priority with regard to the relationship of the union with any third country, in order to preserve the integrity of the single market, limit the risk of fragmentation and avoid unequal treatment of member states. 

‘In any event, national measures of any kind have to comply with EU law, including the principle of sincere cooperation.

The commission added: ‘The EU collectively has a stronger bargaining power than each member state acting alone. This bargaining power benefits all member states. It must be used to ensure a level playing field between the EU and the United Kingdom.’

As the markets digested the news, JPMorgan reduced the chances of a trade deal to 60 per cent from 66 per cent and said the probability could fall below 50 per cent if progress is not made soon. 

Citi warned that the chances of a deal have fallen materially, although it still thinks agreement is the more likely outcome.

JPMorgan analyst Malcolm Barr said deadlines have come and gone before and negotiations could continue beyond Sunday.

‘But the need to make preparations for the regime shift of ‘no deal’ is pressing, and taking such actions alongside the talks increases the sense that the two sides would be ‘going through the motions’ rather than being committed to concluding a deal,’ Mr Barr said in a note to clients.

‘In the absence of significant progress toward an agreement by the end of the weekend, the odds of a deal will fall below 50 per cent.’

Concerns that the chances were falling were also felt in currency markets, with the pound shedding 1 per cent, and in stock markets where bank share prices dropped sharply.

Business groups also voiced alarm at the deteriorating outlook. 

Allie Renison, senior policy adviser at the Institute of Directors, said: ‘Business leaders will be concerned at the apparent lack of progress.

‘Even at this late stage, a deal is crucial to reduce disruption and uncertainty. Both sides must strain every sinew to find a way forward.’

Make UK, Scottish Engineering and Manufacturing Northern Ireland said in a joint statement: ‘After over four years of uncertainty, UK manufacturers are now facing the most challenging start to the new year, dealing with a pandemic and the risk of having no trading arrangement with our largest market.

‘A no-deal would be catastrophic for Britain’s manufacturers, a sector which came to the nation’s aid when the Covid crisis struck.’

Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘Government must keep in mind the emerging crisis at our ports and the looming implications of Brexit upon our businesses and supply chains.’

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The Conservative manifesto promised to ‘make Britain the best place in the world to work’.

‘So surely the PM can sign up to workers’ rights in Britain being at least as good as those in the EU.

‘We need a good deal. He needs to get on with it.’

Josh Hardie, the CBI’s deputy director general, said: ‘Shifting deadlines are already costing companies, so getting a deal is vital to protect businesses, jobs and living standards across Europe already under strain from the pandemic.

‘Progress relies on political leadership, which is needed now more than ever to avoid a costly, damaging and divisive no-deal scenario.’

Government sources confirmed that Lord Frost and Mr Barnier were resuming talks in the Belgian capital today in a bid to resolve the outstanding issues.  

In a gloomy assessment last night, a No10 source said Mr Johnson did not want to leave ‘any route to a possible deal untested’. ‘The PM and Ursula von der Leyen had a frank discussion about the significant obstacles which remain in the negotiations,’ the source said. 

‘Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged. The PM and Ms von der Leyen agreed to further discussions over the next few days between their negotiating teams. 

‘The PM does not want to leave any route to a possible deal untested. The PM and Ms von der Leyen agreed that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks.’

Ms von der Leyen said in a statement: ‘We had a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues. We understand each other’s positions. 

‘They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend.’ 

Mr Barnier and Lord Frost have wrangled unsuccessfully for months over access to UK waters, level playing field rules and how to enforce the terms, and finally admitted earlier this week that they could not make any more progress. 

Mr Johnson set the tone for the showdown yesterday by telling MPs no prime minister could accept the demands the EU is making, which include obeying rules it makes in the future, as well as those currently in place. 

In a bullishly optimistic performance at PMQs, Mr Johnson said the UK would ‘prosper mightily’ with or without an agreement – even though the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has suggested the collapse of talks would knock two percent off GDP next year.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has warned that the long-term damage from falling back on World Trade Organisation terms would be worse than the economic hit from coronavirus.

Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to stick to his guns, insisting his pledge to ‘take back control’ and put sovereignty first must not be sacrificed to get a deal. But Sir Keir Starmer accused the PM of bungling the negotiations, swiping: ‘Secure the deal, Prime Minister. You promised it.’

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick waded into the crisis last night, telling ITV’s Peston that while there had been ‘good discussion’ between the PM and Ms von der Leyen, there are still ‘very significant areas of disagreement’ and that had been ‘no clear movement in the right direction’.  

The Housing Secretary said: ‘It sounds as if, from the conversations I’ve had with the Prime Minister’s team tonight, that there are still very significant areas of disagreement.

‘So I don’t want to give false hope, but he did conclude with Ursula von der Leyen that we should get the teams back together in the coming days and they will work hard to see if there is a way forward until Sunday.’

Shoppers ‘could face shortage of fresh food after no deal Brexit’ 

Shoppers may face temporary shortages of some fresh foods and price hikes if the UK fails to secure a trade deal with the European Union, the chairman of Tesco has warned.

John Allan also said shoppers could turn to buying UK-produced items when imported goods jump in price due to import taxes.

He told the BBC import taxes could push the price of brie cheese up by 40 per cent and may mean British shoppers opt for cheddar instead.

Mr Allan warned food bills could climb by 5% on average in the event of a no-deal scenario, with specific products likely to increase significantly more.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday he is ‘not concerned’ about potential food price rises or shortages if the Government fails to strike a trade deal.

But Mr Allan insisted impending tariffs will increase prices.

He told Bloomberg: ‘Those almost inevitably are going to lead to higher prices, and I think if we go out on a no-deal basis that is unavoidable.’

He warned there is likely to be disruption during the transition period which could impact the transport of some foods and lead to empty shelves.

Mr Allan said: ‘We may see some shortages of fresh foods, particularly short-life fresh foods.

‘I think that will only be for a limited period, perhaps a month or two, before we get back to normal.

‘I don’t think there is any reason at all for any consumer to panic or panic-buy at the moment.

‘There is still going to be plenty of food in the UK – there may just be slightly restricted choice for a period of time.’

Alongside its grocery competitors, Tesco has been stockpiling long-life items in its warehouses in preparation for a no-deal.

Last month, Sainsbury’s raised concerns that the supply of some fish, dairy and meat products to its stores in Northern Ireland could be significantly reduced next year due to Brexit.

Asked if the UK was closer to a deal, he said: ‘I think there was a good discussion, but there was no clear movement in the right direction.’ 

Responding to the development, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: ‘One year after Boris Johnson promised us an oven-ready deal he has completely failed. The failure to deliver the deal he promised is his and his alone.’

Labour’s shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: ‘The Prime Minister promised an oven-ready deal. He needs to get it done so we can focus on what matters to the British people: securing our economy, protecting our NHS and rebuilding our country.’

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called a no deal Brexit ‘a massive failure of diplomacy and leadership which @BorisJohnson has to take ownership of’. 

He tweeted:‘On top of the health & economic impact of covid this is self induced self harm. Disruption to trade, tariffs, higher prices and lost jobs is never a price worth paying.’   

As Mr Johnson arrived at the Berlaymont building last night, he was given a reminder by Ms von der Leyen of the need for social distancing – with Brussels in the midst of a tough coronavirus lockdown. 

As the two leaders posed for the cameras, the Prime Minister asked if they were taking their masks off. The commission president agreed, but told Mr Johnson to ‘keep distance’ as they briefly removed their face coverings. Ms von der Leyen added: ‘Then we have to put it back on. You have to put it back on immediately.’

The Prime Minister responded, saying: ‘You run a tight ship here, Ursula, and quite right too.’ The pair then headed off for a one-on-one meeting, before dinner.

Around the table with the PM and Ms von der Leyen were the chief negotiators Mr Barnier and Lord Frost, as well as a few other key officials.

The menu for such meals is always closely watched for hints of the mood and subtle jokes by the host.

And this occasion was no exception, with two seafood courses in an apparent nod to the bitter dispute over fishing rights for UK waters. 

The starter was pumpkin soup and scallops; while the main was steamed turbot and mashed potatoes with wasabi and vegetables.

Desert was Pavolova with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet.  

In the Commons yesterday, Mr Johnson insisted a ‘good deal is still there to be done’ despite the increasingly bitter standoff. 

But he made clear that there will need to be movement on the EU’s side if there is to be a trade accord agreed and rolled out before of the end of the ‘standstill’ transition period on December 31. 

The no deal plans unveiled by the EU commission today are designed to keep trucks running and planes in the sky – but also have an intriguing element on fisheries, suggesting that reciprocal access could be continued for another year

The Prime Minister left Downing Street in the late afternoon yesterday before then flying to the Belgian capital along with the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost (left)

‘Our friends in the EU are currently insisting that if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or don’t follow suit, then they want the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate,’ Mr Johnson told MPs.

‘Secondly, they are saying that the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters. I don’t believe that those are terms that any prime minister of this country should accept.’

Earlier, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove cautioned that Mr Johnson could pull the plug on negotiations unless the EU shifts on the sticking points of fishing rights, ‘level-playing field’ rules and enforcement of the deal.

He suggested the ‘glide path’ had been made easier by a settlement of another major row over the implementation of the original Brexit divorce terms. 

But he insisted the UK will never bow to pressure over future rules and regulations – proposals that dramatically resurfaced last week after a fresh offensive from Michel Barnier and French president Emmanuel Macron. 

Mr Gove said the premier would spell out the ‘political realities’ with Ms von der Leyen later.  

As pressure grew yesterday, Mr Barnier – who increasingly looks to be a major roadblock to an agreement – warned the chances of a deal are ‘very slim’.

Mr Johnson yesterday offered a significant olive branch by agreeing to scrap controversial legislation that broke part of the original Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland.

The EU had said it would not sign an agreement if the legislation remained. 

In another major concession the EU will be allowed to have officials stationed in Northern Ireland, a sticking point on which Britain had previously stood firm.

The DUP called it ‘unnecessary’ and ‘concerning’, while Brexiteers made clear they will be watching closely to see if Mr Johnson cedes further ground to Ms von der Leyen.

Who is Ursula von der Leyen, the EU chief who was once tipped as Angela Merkel’s successor?

Ursula von der Leyen took over as President of the European Commission from Jean-Claude Juncker in December 2019. 

Since then, the start of her five-year term in office has been dominated by two issues: Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic. 

The 62-year-old is a staunch defender of the EU project and has previously called for a ‘United States of Europe’ with its own army. 

She previously served as defence secretary in Germany and was once viewed as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The mother-of-seven has experienced a rapid political rise, only entering politics in her 40s. 

She has a medical degree and studied at the London School of Economics as well as Stanford in the US.

The qualified gynaecologist regularly emerged in opinion polls as one of Germany’s most popular politicians before she made the switch to Brussels. 

She is the daughter of Brussels-born Eurocrat Ernst Albrecht, a senior German politician who worked in the EU Commission in the 1950s. 

She revealed last year that she spent a year in London in the 1970s hiding from notorious German communist terrorists.

She spent 12 months in the ‘seething, international, colourful city’ to avoid the baader-Meinhof Gang, a hard Left group that carried out a string of bomb attacks and assassinations. 

She came to London after attending university in the German city of Gottingen, with police advising her father, who was PM of Lower Saxony, to move her away. 

But government sources said big gaps remained between the two sides on key issues – and warned that the PM could pull the plug on negotiations if no progress was made.

One source said the two sides were too far apart for a deal to be struck last night. But Mr Johnson hopes the two leaders can identify a breakthrough which their negotiators can finalise in the following days.

‘The aim is to unlock things so they can give their teams the authority to keep going and finalise the issues,’ the source said. 

‘But if they strike out and make no progress then that is going to be it – there is no point carrying on for the sake of it.’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not believe it would be clear yesterday whether a deal will be done. 

‘I don’t think we will know by tomorrow if this will happen or not, at least I can’t promise this but we are still working on it,’ she told the Bundestag.

‘But we are also prepared for conditions we cannot accept. So if there are conditions coming from the British side which we cannot accept, then we will go on our own way without an exit agreement. Because one thing is certain: the integrity of the single market has to be maintained.’  

Mrs Merkel said the ‘big, difficult question’ was over the rules on obeying future regulations, with the EU fearing the UK will gain a competitive advantage by refusing to follow its standards. 

‘There are a number of complicated questions, which mostly are down to how to deal with the dynamic,’ she said. 

‘We currently more or less have the same legal system, a harmonised legal system, but over the years the legal systems will diverge regarding environment law, labour law, health legislation, everywhere.

‘And how will the respective other side react to this, when the legal situation either in the European union or in Great Britain will change? And we can’t just say we won’t talk about this, but we not only need a level playing field for today but also for days to come.

‘For this we need to find agreements about how each side can react when the other changes their legal situation. Otherwise there will be unfair competition conditions, which we can’t do to our companies.’

In a round of interviews yesterday, Mr Gove refused to give a percentage chance for a deal.

‘I’m hopeful that the Prime Minister will be able to lay out, over the course of dinner, where movement is required,’ he told Sky news.

‘The conversation between the Prime Minister and the president tonight, I hope, will create further political momentum, which will make sure that we do reach an agreement.’

Mr Gove insisted the UK ‘holds the cards’ in the talks, with fishing rights and as a major purchaser of EU goods. That was why the bloc had been trying to ‘claw back advantage’ over the past week, he argued. 

‘I think that the political realities that he will share with Ursula von der Leyen tonight give us the best chance of reaching a deal,’ Mr Gove added.   

Boris Johnson departs the EU commission’s Berlaymont building HQ last night after failing to get a breakthrough during long talks with Ursula von der Leyen 

Boris Johnson arrives back at the British embassy after his three-hour dinner with Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels 

Boris Johnson walks from an airplane after arriving back from Brussels at RAF Northolt near London

Boris Johnson set out at the start the year aiming for a trade deal with the EU modelled on the one it has with Canada.

In February, the Prime Minister highlighted the EU’s offer of either a Norway-style deal tied to the single market or a looser Canada-style deal, adding: ‘We have made our choice. We want a comprehensive free-trade agreement, similar to Canada’s.’

The EU-Canada deal, signed in 2016 after seven years of talks, lifted tariffs on 98 per cent of goods and boosted trade quotas. But although goods exported to the EU must meet its standards, Canada does not have to follow the bloc’s rules.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier had offered it to the UK, saying in 2017 that Britain’s rejection of the single market and customs union meant ‘we will have to work on a model that is closer to the agreement signed with Canada’.

But his tune changed as EU leaders began to raise concerns that the UK could become more competitive than their own economies. In February he warned that the UK’s ‘particular proximity’ to the EU meant that any trade deal would have to be different to the one with Canada.

He has since tabled demands that would tie Britain into the EU’s regulatory orbit for ever. 

He confirmed that ‘level-playing field’ rules are now the main issue that needs to be overcome.

‘The issue of particular contention is that last week the EU negotiators didn’t simply want an arrangement whereby we pledge what we call non-regression – which is common in most trade treaties, which means you maintain the standards at the point of entry – they actually wanted an arrangement that meant if the EU adopted new laws, that the UK would have to (follow them) or the EU would retaliate,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘We can accept the non-regression principles, which are common to free trade agreements, which indeed Canada entered into and that’s the point we’ve always made – we want an arrangement similar to the one Canada has with the European Union.’ 

Mr Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord Frost are both due to attend this evening’s dinner between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen.  

Many in Westminster are unsure whether the PM’s trip to Brussels should be seen as a good sign or as a bad sign for the chances of a deal being done. 

One Cabinet minister said: ‘None of us really know what is going on. Is he going because he thinks there is a chance that he can return victorious with a piece of paper?

‘Or does he already know it’s probably No Deal and just wants to be seen to be doing everything he can?

‘Either way, it is entirely his call. Everyone wants a deal, but no-one is pushing him to take it at any price. It is down to his judgment.’

The crunch talks between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen will take place just hours before European leaders will meet for an EU Council summit in Brussels today.

Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, said the summit would not formally discuss the negotiations with the UK but Ms von der Leyen is expected to brief leaders on the state of play.  

There had been fears Mr Macron could use the summit to grandstand on his opposition to a compromise, effectively wrecking hopes of a deal.

Downing Street blamed Mr Macron for torpedoing talks last week by pressuring Mr Barnier into toughening his stance just as progress was being made.

Two EU diplomats told the Mail that the chances of a Brexit deal were ‘now out of Barnier’s hands’.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle says Parliament could sit until Xmas Eve if needed to pass a Brexit bill

The House of Commons could sit as late as Christmas Eve should it be required to pass a Brexit bill, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said.

Under current plans, the Commons will stop sitting on December 21, but he told Sky News recess could be delayed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed that a ‘firm decision’ about the future of the negotiations should be made by Sunday following three hours of talks in Brussels.

The transition period finishes on December 31 and any deal would have to be ratified by the European Council, the European Parliament and Westminster.

Sir Linsday told the broadcaster: ‘I would like to believe that we will all be going up on the date that’s expected of the House.

‘But if needs be, the House is the servant and I am happy as being that servant to ensure we can run, as far as I’m concerned, even up to Christmas Eve.

‘I would like to believe we can finish on the Monday before Christmas. I would like to put everything to bed and get everybody away from here.’

Mr Johnson said the situation was ‘very tricky’ but he hoped the ‘power of sweet reason’ could still clinch an agreement in the final days before the Brexit transition ends later this month.

He acknowledged there may be a point where it is ‘time to draw stumps’ and accept that a deal is impossible.

Talks have stalled on the vexed issues of fishing access and the UK’s right to set its own destiny without having to follow EU rules after Brexit.

The EU is prepared to accept only modest cuts to its fishing quotas and wants them phased in over ten years.

Brussels is also demanding that the UK compete on a so-called ‘level-playing field’ in future.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the outstanding issues in the negotiations with the European Union were about sovereignty and not trade.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think at the moment the problem that the Prime Minister faces is that this is not any longer about a trade deal – a trade deal is sitting in the wings.

‘What this is all about is sovereignty, the question of how far can the EU insist that their courts and their rules and their regulations apply to the UK as we go forward, leaving the UK trapped in the orbit of the EU without any say, and that’s simply unacceptable to the Prime Minister.’

Mr Johnson is willing to guarantee the UK will not lower existing standards in areas such as state aid subsidies, workers’ rights and the environment, but Brussels also now wants the UK to adopt future EU regulations, and is demanding the power to levy ‘lightning tariffs’ if we diverge – an idea No 10 says is unacceptable.

Mr Johnson said yesterday: ‘Our friends have just got to understand the UK has left the EU in order to be able to exercise democratic control over the way we do things.

‘There is also the issue of fisheries where we are a long way apart still. But hope springs eternal, I will do my best to sort it out if we can.’

Mr Barnier told MEPs this week that yesterday was the final deadline for a deal, as it had to be signed off by leaders at today’s EU summit.

But the EU yesterday played down his comments, and suggested that talks could carry on until the end of this month – and possibly even into next year.

Downing Street said the UK was willing to continue talks for ‘as long as we have time available’ – but ruled out any extension into next year.

Tory Eurosceptics urged Mr Johnson not to back down on the UK’s red lines.

In a message to the PM on Twitter, former party treasurer Lord Ashcroft said: ‘At dinner in Brussels, grip your marbles tight, pour lead in your pencil, don’t go wobbly and don’t cross your stated red lines… good fortune.’

Former Brexit minister David Jones said a deal was now only possible if the EU gave ground.

He said: ‘We will never again allow our trade and regulatory policy to be dictated by other countries. A free trade agreement is one thing; subservience is another. 


Boris Johnson and the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen have agreed that a ‘firm decision’ about the future of Brexit negotiations should be made by Sunday.

As the clock ticks towards the deadline for agreement on a trade deal, here is a look at the key moments in the saga:

January 23, 2013 – Under intense pressure from many of his own MPs and with the rise of Ukip, prime minister David Cameron promises an in-out referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the 2015 general election.

May 7, 2015 – The Tories unexpectedly make sweeping gains over Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and secure a majority in the Commons. Mr Cameron vows to deliver his manifesto pledge of an EU referendum.

June 23, 2016 – The UK votes to leave the EU in a shock result that sees 52% of the public support Brexit and Mr Cameron quickly resigns as prime minister.

July 13, 2016 – Theresa May takes over as prime minister. Despite having backed Remain, she promises to ‘rise to the challenge’ of negotiating the UK’s exit.

November 10, 2016 – The High Court rules against the Government and says Parliament must hold a vote to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, the mechanism that begins the exit from the EU. Mrs May says the ruling will not stop her from invoking the legislation by April 2017.

March 29, 2017 – Mrs May triggers Article 50. European Council president Donald Tusk says it is not a happy occasion, telling a Brussels press conference his message to the UK is: ‘We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.’

April 18, 2017 – Mrs May announces a snap general election to be held on June 8.

June 8, 2017 – There is humiliation for Mrs May as she loses her Commons majority after her election gamble backfires. She becomes head of a minority Conservative administration propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party.

September 22, 2017 – In a crucial Brexit speech in Florence, Mrs May sends a message to EU leaders by saying: ‘We want to be your strongest friend and partner as the EU and UK thrive side by side.’ She says she is proposing an ‘implementation period’ of ‘around two years’ after Brexit when existing market access arrangements will apply.

March 19, 2018 – The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, says he and Brexit secretary David Davis have taken a ‘decisive step’ towards agreeing a joint legal text on the UK’s EU withdrawal but warns there are still outstanding issues relating to the Irish border.

July 6, 2018 – A crunch Cabinet meeting at Chequers agrees Mrs May’s new Brexit plans, including the creation of a new UK-EU free trade area for goods. But not all who attend are happy with the compromises.

July 8 and July 9, 2018 – Mr Davis resigns from the Government in protest while the following day Boris Johnson quits as foreign secretary, claiming the plans mean ‘we are truly headed for the status of colony’ of the EU.

November 14, 2018 – In a statement outside 10 Downing Street after a five-hour Cabinet meeting, Mrs May says that Cabinet has agreed the draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

November 15, 2018 – Dominic Raab resigns as Brexit secretary, saying he ‘cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU’. Other resignations follow.

November 25, 2018 – The 27 EU leaders endorse the Brexit deal.

December 12, 2018 – Mrs May survives an attempt to oust her with a vote of no confidence as Tory MPs vote by 200 to 117 in the secret ballot in Westminster.

January 15, 2019 – MPs reject Mrs May’s Brexit plans by an emphatic 432 to 202 in an historic vote which throws the future of her administration and the nature of the UK’s EU withdrawal into doubt.

March 20, 2019 – Mrs May tells the House of Commons that she has written to Mr Tusk to request an extension to Article 50 Brexit negotiations to June 30.

March 29, 2019 – MPs reject Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement for a third time – by 286 votes to 344 – on the day the UK was due to leave the EU.

April 10, 2019 – The EU agrees a ‘flexible extension’ to Brexit until October 31. Mrs May says the ‘choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear’.

May 23, 2019 – Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party comes out on top in the European elections, while the pro-EU Liberal Democrats also make gains.

May 24, 2019 – Mrs May announces she is standing down as Tory Party leader on June 7. She says: ‘It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.’

July 23, 2019 – Mr Johnson is elected as leader of the Conservative Party and becomes the UK’s new Prime Minister after defeating Jeremy Hunt.

August 20, 2019 – The new Prime Minister is rebuffed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker after demanding major changes to Irish border arrangements in a new Brexit deal.

August 28, 2019 – The Queen is dragged into the Brexit row as Mr Johnson requests the prorogation of Parliament from early September to mid-October.

September 4, 2019 – MPs vote to approve legislation aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit. Mr Johnson orders a purge of rebel Tories who opposed the Government including former chancellors Philip Hammond and Sir Kenneth Clarke.

The Prime Minister attempts to trigger an early general election but fails to get the required support of two-thirds of MPs.

September 24, 2019 – The Supreme Court rules that the PM’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament until October 14 was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating Parliament.

October 2, 2019 – Mr Johnson puts forward his formal Brexit plan to the EU, revealing his blueprint to solve the Irish border issue.

October 10, 2019 – Mr Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar say they can see a ‘pathway to a deal’, in a joint statement after key talks at a luxury hotel in Cheshire.

October 17, 2019 – After intense negotiations, the Prime Minister announces the UK has reached a ‘great deal’ with the EU which ‘takes back control’ and means that ‘the UK can come out of the EU as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, together’.

October 19, 2019 – In the first Saturday sitting of the Commons in 37 years Mr Johnson seeks the support of MPs in a ‘meaningful vote’ on his new deal but instead they back an amendment forcing him to seek a delay.

October 22, 2019 – The Prime Minister mounts an attempt to fast-track his Brexit deal through Parliament but puts the plans on ice after MPs vote against his foreshortened timetable.

October 28, 2019 – EU leaders agree to a second Brexit ‘flextension’ until January 31 unless Parliament ratifies the deal sooner.

October 29, 2019 – Mr Johnson finally succeeds at the fourth attempt in winning Commons support for a general election on December 12.

December 12, 2019 – Having campaigned on a promise to ‘get Brexit done’, Mr Johnson secures a landslide win at the election and with an 80-seat majority.

January 8, 2020 – New European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen visits No 10 to warn Mr Johnson the timetable for a post-Brexit trade deal is ‘very, very tight’. The Prime Minister is clear however there will be no extension to the transition period, which expires at the end of 2020.

January 9, 2020 – Mr Johnson gets his Brexit deal through the Commons as the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is given a third reading with a majority of 99.

January 31, 2020 – A clock projected on the walls of Downing Street counts down the moments to the UK’s departure from the EU at 11pm.

March 2, 2020 – Mr Barnier and Mr Johnson’s chief EU adviser David Frost open formal talks in Brussels on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, including a free trade agreement.

March 12, 2020 – The two sides announce they are suspending face-to-face talks due to the coronavirus pandemic and will explore the options for continuing the negotiations by video conferencing.

June 12, 2020 – Cabinet office minister Michael Gove formally tells the EU the UK will not sign up to an extension to the transition period, but he backtracks on plans to immediately introduce full border checks with the bloc on January 1.

September 10, 2020 – The European Commission threatens the UK with legal action after ministers announce plans for legislation enabling them to override provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland in breach of international law.

October 16, 2020 – Mr Johnson says he is halting talks on a trade deal accusing EU leaders meeting for a summit in Brussels of seeking to impose ‘unacceptable’ demands.

November 7, 2020 – Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen agree to ‘redouble’ their efforts to get a deal while acknowledging that significant differences remain over fisheries and the so-called ‘level playing field’ for state aid rules.

December 4, 2020 – Lord Frost and Mr Barnier announce in a joint statement the conditions for an agreement had still not been met and negotiations will be put on ‘pause’ to allow political leaders to take stock, with Mr Johnson and Mrs Von der Leyen to engage in emergency talks.

December 9, 2020 – Mr Johnson and Mrs Von der Leyen dine at the European Commission, with talks between the two leaders lasting around three hours.

After the meeting, a senior Downing Street source says the pair had a ‘frank discussion’ and that ‘very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged’.

The leaders agreed there would be further discussions between the negotiating teams, but that a ‘firm decision’ should be taken about the future of the talks by Sunday.


Michael Gove says Northern Ireland companies will not need to fill out forms to export goods to Britain as he claims the UK rejected EU demands for a ‘mini-embassy’ in Belfast  

Michael Gove insisted Northern Ireland businesses will not need to fill out export forms to send goods to Britain when the post-Brexit transition period ends. 

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said a deal on border arrangements struck with the EU means firms in Northern Ireland will have ‘unfettered access’ to the mainland.  

The announcement represents a win for Boris Johnson who previously vowed he would not agree to terms that would allow checks to be carried out on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. 

The Prime Minister had memorably told business leaders to personally phone him if border officials ever asked to see their paperwork.

Meanwhile, Mr Gove claimed the UK had rejected an EU demand to have a ‘mini-embassy’ based in Belfast. 

The terms of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol will allow EU officials to monitor border checks but Mr Gove said they ‘will not have any powers to carry out checks themselves’. 

Michael Gove today insisted Northern Ireland businesses will not need to fill out export forms to send goods to Britain when the post-Brexit transition period ends

Michael Gove compared to Bart Simpson over ‘I didn’t do it’ Brexit approach

Michael Gove today spoke of his fondness for Groundskeeper Willie after his behaviour over Brexit was compared to Bart Simpson.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office highlighted the fictional Scottish school janitor from The Simpsons during exchanges in the House of Commons – only to be told that Willie declared his support for Scottish independence at the 2014 referendum.

SNP MP Owen Thompson had raised The Simpsons by suggesting Mr Gove was following Bart’s approach of claiming ‘I didn’t do it’ for anything that goes wrong. 

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Thompson said: ‘While the minister is telling Northern Ireland it can have the best of both worlds, he’s using the same reasoning to tell Scotland to shut up and get back in your box – all while claiming any negative impacts are not actually Brexit-related.

‘Is it now the case the minister has become the Government’s very own Bart Simpson, causing chaos and presenting their agenda regardless of cost while claiming ‘I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it, you can’t prove anything’?’

Aberdeen-born Mr Gove replied: ‘Well, I’ve always thought The Simpsons character I most remembered was Groundskeeper Willie because he’s an Aberdonian.’

SNP MP Alison Thewliss could be heard shouting: ‘He supports independence.’

Mr Gove replied: ‘I’m not sure what his position is on independence, but as jannies (janitors) go, he’s one of the best.’ 

Setting out the details of the protocol to MPs in the House of Commons yesterday, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said there will be no additional requirements placed on Northern Ireland businesses.

He said: ‘This deal protects unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to their most important market as the Prime Minister underlined.

‘This had to be protected in full and that meant removing any prospect of export declarations for Northern Ireland goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

‘As for what our agreement will do, there will be no additional requirements placed on Northern Ireland businesses with a very limited and specific exception of trade in endangered species and conflict diamonds.’

Mr Gove sought to downplay the role which will be played by EU officials under the new arrangements.  

He told MPs: ‘There’ll be no Belfast mini-embassy or mission, as some in the EU originally sought, and the EU officials will not have any powers to carry out checks themselves.

‘There will, instead, be sensible, practical arrangements – co-operation, reciprocal data-sharing – so that both sides can have confidence in these unique arrangements.’ 

The protocol is due to come into effect from the start of next year and is set to keep Northern Ireland in line with some EU regulations on the single market to allow an open border and free flow of goods and services across the island. 

Mr Gove confirmed there will be a three-month ‘grace period’ for supermarkets and traders ‘in order to make sure that they are ready for any health export certificate requirements’.  

‘This deal would keep goods flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in January, and indeed provide some necessary additional flexibilities,’ he said.  

‘It protects Northern Ireland’s supermarket supplies. We heard throughout the year that traders needed time to adapt their systems, that’s why we’ve got a grace period for supermarkets to update their procedures.

‘Our agreement also prevents any disruption at the end of the transition period on the movement of chilled meats. British sausages will continue to make their way to Belfast and Ballymena in the new year.’

The implementation of the protocol which is underpinned by the Brexit divorce deal was agreed by a joint EU-UK committee earlier this week.  

The breakthrough meant controversial clauses in the Internal Market Bill which related to Northern Ireland and which the Government had previously admitted broke international law could be removed.   

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