Boris Johnson will send MPs home for Christmas on Thursday in a bid to ramp up the pressure on Brussels as the Brexit trade talks enter their endgame.
The move is a signal to the EU that the Prime Minister is not prepared to cave to EU demands over fishing, despite the European Commission president suggesting it was the last remaining obstacle to a deal on Wednesday.
Addressing the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs on Wednesday night, Mr Johnson joked: “Don’t recall us, we’ll recall you.”
Downing Street moved to dampen hopes that a deal might be close, after Ursula von der Leyen said there was a “narrow path” to striking the zero-tariff, zero-quota deal before the end-of-year deadline.
Mr Johnson said: “There’s a good deal there to be done, but if not, WTO, Australia terms it is and as I say we will prosper mightily on those terms as well.”
“We’ve just got to make sure that we control our laws and control our own waters.”
Number 10 said that, despite the usual Christmas recess being observed, there was no risk of an agreed trade deal not being approved by MPs in time. They would work “at pace” to ensure the ratification was done before the end of the transition period.
“We will recall MPs and peers to legislate for a deal if one is secured. That recall could be as early as next week,” a spokesperson said.
Mrs von der Leyen urged Mr Johnson to compromise over the length of the fishing transition period after Britain made concessions on the level playing field guarantees this week.
British negotiators asked Brussels to move on fishing after making compromises on the guarantees for fair competition this week but those overtures were rebuffed.
“There is a path to an agreement. Now, the path may be very narrow but it is there,” Mrs von der Leyen told MEPs in Brussels.
The EU wants a longer transition period for the new fishing arrangements to come into force than Britain has offered.
The UK proposed a three year “glide path” towards a significant increase in the British share of the catch from its waters. The EU wants as long as ten years.
“This is now a case of us being so close and yet being so far away from each other,” Mrs von der Leyen said in the European Parliament.
Diplomatic sources in Brussels have long suggested that a five- to seven-year transition period for fish, which will allow the UK to build up its fleet and EU fishermen time to adapt, is the most likely landing zone.
“We do not question the UK sovereignty on its own waters. But we ask for predictability and stability for our fishermen and our fisherwomen,” Mrs von der Leyen said.
She added: “On fisheries, the discussion is still very difficult. And in all honesty, it sometimes feels that we will not be able to resolve this question. But we must continue to try to find a solution.”
“The good news is that we have found a way forward on most issues,” Mrs von der Leyen said.
Progress had been made on subsidy law towards an agreement that would allow Brussels to take unilateral actions such as tariffs to redress unfair competition from the UK, she said.
Both sides have also agreed “a strong mechanism of non regression” on EU standards on labour, social and environmental standards, Mrs von der Leyen said.
“That’s a big step forward,” she said.
British sources suggested Mrs von der Leyen was presenting an overly optimistic view of the current state of the talks.
One source said: “Things are definitely better than they were a few days ago but we are not close to a deal and it’s definitely not the case that everything apart from fish is settled.”
A UK official said: “We’ve made some progress, but we are still very far apart in key areas.”
Emmanuel Macron, who has threatened to veto a trade deal that did not respect French red lines over fishing and the level playing field, said he wanted the “best relationship possible” with Britain.
The French president said the Single Market had to be protected from unfair competition from British companies.
In Berlin, Angela Merkel said that progress had been made in the talks but there was no breakthrough yet. The German Chancellor said the EU was ready for no deal but remained “of the view that a Brexit deal would be better than no deal”.