On Sunday, fishing rights in UK waters continued to discuss in Brussels a future Brexit trade deal, as officials questioned whether another phone call between Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, could help break the deadlock.
British officials insisted on the EU’s offer on fisheries and a level playing field for competition remained “unacceptable” and accused member states – an apparent reference to France – of not showing enough of “flexibility” to get an agreement on the line.
France, however, insisted it would not be forced to agree to an unsanitary deal, with French President Emmanuel Macron demanding firm guarantees of continued access to British waters for his country’s fishing boats.
A UK government official said on Saturday: “Talks are continuing overnight, but as it stands, the EU offer on the table remains unacceptable.
“The Prime Minister is sparing no effort in this process, but it is absolutely clear: any deal must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks.
UK officials said on Saturday the Prime Minister was due to meet with Ms von der Leyen on Sunday ‘as scheduled’ to take stock of the latest talks on fisheries and equal opportunities to ensure fair competition after Brexit .
But EU officials said on Sunday morning that a call had yet to be confirmed and Mr Johnson’s allies said such a conversation was not scheduled “at this time.”
In the area of fair competition, the outstanding questions mainly concern the limits of public subsidies to companies. A person briefed on the interviews said the point was “still difficult but not insurmountable”.
Discussions over fish are seen as more problematic, with both sides remaining at a distance over what fishing rights EU boats should have in UK waters and the length of any transitional period to cushion the blow brought to the EU fleet.
“The finish line is visible,” a person involved in the talks said on Saturday. “But no one wants to cross it.”
There is little time left before the Sunday midnight deadline set by the European Parliament for a deal on the future relationship to be reached if it is to be ratified this year. Some UK officials are now saying they want the matter to be dealt with one way or another before Christmas.
Such a timeline would imply that MPs and MEPs would be asked to review and approve any deal within days between Christmas and the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31.
This has alarmed some Tory Eurosceptic MPs who fear they will be forced to approve a deal on future UK-EU relations with barely a possibility of scrutiny.
“If a deal collapses on inspection, don’t accept it,” Steve Baker, former Brexit minister, said on Twitter.
“The idea that MPs can be tricked into voting for a bad deal in the hope that they will then have to back it is toxic: it would be contemptible to do so. So I would not expect the government to try.
Meanwhile, Brussels has been accused of agreeing to “vicious and unprecedented cuts” to EU fishing rights, after presenting an improved offer to the UK.
The European Fisheries Alliance, a group representing fleets from coastal countries such as Belgium, France and the Netherlands, warned on Saturday: “The form of an agreement, like the current stands would be a blow to the European seafood industry. ”
“Despite repeated promises, we are being sold on the river,” said Gerard van Balsfoort, the president of the organization.
An earlier version of this story indicated that a phone call between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson was expected on Sunday. This is not the case.