On December 12 the government confirmed the Royal Navy is preparing to patrol Britain’s fishing waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as they prepare to tackle “threats of illegal fishing” in UK waters.
Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood voiced his concern about the Royal Navy proposals and urged for the gaps in the negotiations to be bridged before the deadline.
On December 3, the EU demanded unfettered access to Britain’s waters for 10 years. Talks were paused as a result but, when the two sides resumed negotiations in Brussels on December 6, the EU signalled that it was ready to compromise too.
Sources close to the talks have suggested Britain – which had already offered a three-year transition period on fishing arrangements – could offer an even longer transition of around five years. In return, the EU would have to hand back at least 50 per cent of its fish quotas from January 1 instead of the 18 per cent it is currently offering.
Lord Frost’s team has proposed adopting a similar fishing arrangement to Norway, whereby fishing quotas would be agreed annually in shared fishing zones.
British sources suggested finding agreement on fishing was “the easier part” of closing the deal, warning that “level playing field” guarantees were an “existential threat” to British sovereignty which will only be resolved if leaders of the 27 make a significant shift.
The EU is demanding Britain continue to accept rules that prevent the government from subsidising British companies at the expense of EU rivals.
The EU wants the right to impose “lightning” tariffs on UK goods if it decides Britain has breached the terms of the trade deal by diverging too far from EU rules and standards. Mr Johnson has insisted that Britain, as a sovereign state, will set its own rules and will settle for no deal rather than being tied to EU rules.
The two sides also remain far apart on the mechanism to settle any future disputes that might arise if either side breaks the terms of a trade deal.
Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen spoke on December 7 – their second call in a little over 48 hours – after their top negotiators spent Sunday locked in detailed talks.
What’s the deadline?
The Brexit transition period ends on December 31.
The Government has repeatedly ruled out prolonging it further and legislated for a commitment not to agree to any extension.
However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that trade talks will come to a halt.
Negotiators are said to be exploring the idea of review clauses to break the deadlock in EU-UK trade talks, with the possibility that parts of the deal could be revisited several years after they take effect.
With time running short to form an agreement by the end of Britain’s transition period on December 31, both sides could start to get creative.
Read more: When does a Brexit deal need to be done by?
Is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit still possible?
Some thought the departure of Boris Johnson’s most senior aide, the Vote Leave Svengali Dominic Cummings, would result in a softening of Downing Street’s stance.
However, Whitehall sources claim the Prime Minister remains the “hardest in the room” in his unwillingness to budge to secure a Brexit deal.
Our neighbours appear alarmed that a no-deal Brexit remains a distinct possibility.
France, Belgium and the Netherlands have appealed to the European Commission to accelerate contingency planning in case an agreement cannot be reached in time.
There may be an element of brinkmanship at play as well as necessary economic planning.
At home, Nigel Farage’s new party, Reform, is licking its lips and waiting should Mr Johnson allow fishing to be sacrificed as a make weight in any deal.
In the coming weeks this international game of political poker will finally come to a head.
With the nation’s finances in a parlous state Mr Johnson needs a deal but the indications are he won’t sign an agreement that leaves him a hostage to fortune.
This was first published in The Telegraph’s Refresher newsletter. For more facts and explanation behind the week’s biggest political stories, sign up to the Refresher here – straight to your inbox every Wednesday afternoon for free.