The Prime Minister is in “close contact” with top Eurocrat Ursula von der Leyen as both sides push for a breakthrough before the looming deadline next week. Downing Street sources said the PM and the European Commission president were speaking “given there isn’t long left” to reach an agreement. It is understood Mrs von der Leyen is so keen to wrap-up a deal she is now heavily lobbying EU coastal states to accept a compromise on fishing.
The Brussels boss was said to have kept Mr Barnier in the dark over the phone call with the Prime Minister amid concerns her chief negotiator is not willing to offer more ground to Britain.
Mrs von der Leyen is also in “constant contact with all parties” and is likely to hold talks with key figures, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, as the Brexit talks continue.
But the talks remained stuck last night after fresh clashes over fishing quotas.
Eurocrat Michel Barnier told diplomats last night that most issues are settled but differences on access remain “difficult to bridge”.
He suggested the EU’s view was the UK is “not moving enough yet to clinch a fair deal on fisheries”.
Downing Street sources rejected suggestions the Government is planning to compromise on fishing access.
It followed reports the PM proposed that EU boats should hand back 30-35 per cent by value of their current catches in Britain’s coastal waters, to be phased in over five years.
That is down from an initial demand to cut it by 60 percent over three years, but the compromise was reportedly rejected by Brussels.
Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive officer at the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said 35 per cent would be “completely unacceptable”.
She said: “It would be a derisory shift in the uplift that our industry needs to see and would be a complete failure of these negotiations from our point of view.
“What we expect the government to hold out for is to make sure that we absolutely must control access to our fishing waters. We must have unfettered control of our waters.”
EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier said a “final push” is under way to reach a deal and talks are at a “crucial moment”.
He was briefing ambassadors from the 27 EU countries and MEPs about the state of the talks as time runs short for a deal to be reached.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Mr Barnier said: “We are really in a crucial moment and we are giving it a final push.
“In 10 days, the UK will leave the single market.”
A British official dismissed suggestions talks could be extended.
“The teams continue to work very hard to find an agreement but significant gaps remain. We would need to have any agreement in place ahead of January 1,” the source said. “We will not extend the transition period.
“We’ve clearly set out the reasons that we will not extend the transition period. It would bind us into future EU legislation, without us having any say in designing it, but still having to foot the bill. We need to avoid endless prolonged negotiations stretching into next year and provide certainty to our citizens and businesses as soon as possible.”