The UK's chief negotiator David Frost has arrived in Brussels for last-minute talks with the EU's Michel Barnier. After a phone call between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday failed to break the deadlock, these latest talks are being billed within government as a 'last throw of the dice'. The main differences that remain are on level playing field and fishing.
As senior Brexiteers call on Johnson not to blink and cabinet ministers voice their support in the papers for no-deal if the Prime Minister sees it fit, the likelihood of no-deal is viewed to have increased in recent days. Senior government figures on the UK side now just suggest the chance of a deal is around between 50/50. There's even talk of a television address from Johnson this week to the public if no-deal starts to be seen as inevitable.
Mid-week there was optimism among officials that the shape of a deal was there for the taking. However, after French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns that the EU was giving too much away, the talks began to go downhill. By Thursday afternoon a deal had moved further out of reach. Beyond the remaining differences on fishing, the issue of level playing field provisions has become more contentious — with Barnier putting forward a plan that would see the UK heavily penalised if it did not follow EU rules.
So, is this more posturing before the two sides come together at the last minute and find agreement? The prediction among many Brexiteer MPs has always been that a deal would be agreed right before the deadline. That deadline is viewed as this Monday or Tuesday so that there is time for any agreement to be translated ahead of Thursday's EU council summit.
However, while fighting talk from ministers on no-deal is to be expected this close to the deadline, there is genuine concern in government over the turn the talks have taken. The hunt for more concessions on both sides means that the talks are in risky territory. If it all comes down to the ability of the UK to diverge from EU rules, it will be hard for the UK to give much away — Johnson sees this as critical to his Brexit vision.