Time is fast running out for Downing Street to get a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, but Boris Johnson has entered isolation over a coronavirus contact and No 10 has been in turmoil.
Here is a look at the state of play in negotiations between No 10 and Brussels.
– Didn’t Johnson already ‘get Brexit done’?
Well, technically the UK did leave the EU on January 31st, but for most practical reasons it has not felt like it yet.
That is because the transition period has kept the UK a member of the single market and continuing to follow EU law, but that all comes to an end on December 31st.
The British prime minister’s “oven ready” deal still appears to be on defrost, and there are growing concerns that the UK could crash out of the bloc without a trade deal in place.
– Where do things stand?
Negotiations, this week taking place in Brussels, have been going on intensively in recent weeks but despite some signs of progress the two sides remain a long way from an agreement.
1/4 Arriving once again in Brussels shortly for another round of negotiations with EU and @MichelBarnier this afternoon.
I and our British?? team have been in talks almost every day since 22 October.
— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) November 15, 2020
The sticking points continue to be fishing rights, how any deal would be governed and the “level playing field” measures to prevent unfair competition by cutting workers’ rights or environmental protections or by boosting state subsidies.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman called for the EU to show more “realism” as he said “time is now very short” to bridge what he acknowledged are “significant differences”.
No 10’s chief negotiator, Lord Frost, insisted he would not be changing his position, saying that there is “only one” deal compatible with UK sovereignty and warning that “we may not succeed”.
His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, said negotiators remain “determined” and “patient”.
– What’s the deadline for a deal?
Well, Mr Johnson set one for October 15th, but that fell by the wayside as he failed to get a deal in place by then.
Deadlines in the Brexit saga have continually proved to be malleable, but the chance to extend the transition period past December 31st has been and gone, with Mr Johnson ruling that out.
With @Europarl_EN & all Member States, we remain determined, patient, respectful.
We want our future cooperation to be open but fair in all areas. pic.twitter.com/l54suVhY0I
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) November 16, 2020
But the European Council summit on Thursday, to be held by video because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been touted as a deadline for a draft deal.
Even if negotiators do manage to find a way to break the deadlock, time will still be tight, with ratification needed by EU member states and the Parliaments of Westminster and the EU.
– Will the upheaval in No 10 affect talks?
The departure of Vote Leave architect Dominic Cummings as the prime minister’s chief adviser during a period of acrimony in Downing Street came in a key phase for negotiations.
No 10 has insisted that there will be no softening of the UK’s position despite his exit.
And Mr Johnson has insisted he is “as fit as a butcher’s dog” after coming into contact with a Tory MP who later tested positive for Covid-19, and that he will continue to “lead” on the fight against coronavirus while isolating for 14 days.
Short break from intense ???? negotiations in London.
Went looking for level playing fields… pic.twitter.com/2X4jbygorI
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) November 12, 2020
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer also played down there being any impact from the isolation, saying that talks have been taking place between the Prime Minister and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen by phone.
– And what will happen if there is no trade deal?
Some areas, such as citizens’ rights, “divorce bill” payments and a protocol on Ireland, should be governed by the Withdrawal Agreement that Mr Johnson brokered with Brussels last year.
But businesses will face the high tariffs set by the Word Trade Organisation on goods travelling between the UK and the EU.
Firms already feared these could be crippling, and the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic have only heightened those concerns.
The Government has insisted that it has backups in place to prevent any delay to the importation of a successful coronavirus vaccine from Europe.
Concerns remain of disruption to transport, delays for medicines at the border and of security threats, among many other areas.
But even if the UK does crash out of the bloc on December 31st, Brexit will be far from over as negotiations would likely continue with the EU and other nations.