Last minute negotiations over individual fish species has held up agreement on an EU trade deal.
Boris Johnson was expected to address the nation this morning signing the deal, but negotiators continue to haggle over mackerel and herring, the Telegraph understands.
Quotas on the number of fish caught in UK waters have been a major sticking point in the negotiations so far. The UK is thought to have offered a deal under which the EU’s proportion of the catch would decrease by 25 per cent over the course of five and a half years.
Once the final details are agreed, Mr Johnson will address the nation to announce the news. His statement will be followed by a similar press conference in Brussels.
The Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, are thought to have spoken on the phone this morning.
The deal concludes four and a half years of legal and diplomatic wrangling over the UK’s future relationship with the EU after the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Follow the latest updates below.
Boris Johnson’s famous column urges country to leave EU
More than four and a half years after backing Brexit publicly for the first time, the Prime Minister is just hours away from securing a deal with the EU that will define the UK’s relationship with the bloc for decades.
It was in The Telegraph in 2016 that Mr Johnson announced he was a Eurosceptic – and you can read his famous column here.
“If the “Leave” side wins, it will indeed be necessary to negotiate a large number of trade deals at great speed,” Mr Johnson wrote.
“But why should that be impossible? We have become so used to Nanny in Brussels that we have become infantilised, incapable of imagining an independent future. We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny Civil Service.
“Are we really unable to do trade deals? We will have at least two years in which the existing treaties will be in force.”
Ministers on ‘resignation watch’ over deal
At least two Government ministers are on resignation watch this morning after they signalled they were unhappy with the detail of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, Politico reports.
The Prime Minister spoke to his Cabinet last night and encouraged them to sell the deal when it was announced.
Some hard line Eurosceptic ministers may object to UK concessions on fish. French sources claim UK negotiators backtracked significantly in the last 48 hours of the talks on fishing – one of the major sticking points in negotiations.
The authoritative Eurosceptic position will be decided this week when the European Research Group of MPs convene their “Star Chamber” of lawyers to trawl through the detail.
Star Chamber was first convened to assess Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, and is chaired by Sir Bill Cash, a veteran Eurosceptic MP.
Why did the Brexit deal stall at the very last minute?
Eagle-eyed Brexit watchers were hoping the trade deal would be signed and announced last night, and for a moment it seemed like it might happen.
Then, a delivery driver turned up at the European Commission with pizzas for the negotiators, and it no longer felt so close.
Our Brussels Correspondent, James Crisp, explains what caused the late night delay.
What will happen this morning?
In news that will surprise absolutely no one who has been following Brexit for the last four years, the timings this morning are a bit fluid.
We know that the deal is finished and will be signed at some point in the next couple of hours, following a call between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen.
Downing Street sources last night suggested a press conference with the Prime Minister could be as early as 7am, but it now seems that has been pushed back until at least 8am – but probably later.
The latest call between Mr Johnson and the EU Commission president follows four phone calls yesterday, in which the pair thrashed out some of the remaining obstacles to a deal.
How we got to this point
It has taken us four years to get to this point. Here we look at the key moments during that period.
What the papers say
Brexit is dominating the front pages this morning – with the consensus being that a deal has indeed been done.
So when will it happen?
Nothing is certain at this stage, but the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg believes Boris Johnson will speak to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, at about 7am, followed by a press conference at 8am.
Morning – I hope you are asleep, especially as it’s Christmas Eve. If you are awake, expect PM a to talk to EU chief at about 7am UK time now with a press conference to follow at about 8
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) December 24, 2020
What’s in the deal?
The devil is always in the detail – and James Crisp and Gordon Rayner have been looking at what concessions may have been made.
The Brexit trade deal was more than 95 per cent done for weeks before reports of “white smoke” from the negotiators in Brussels on Wednesday night.
Disagreements over the three major sticking points of fishing rights, level playing field guarantees and the deal’s enforcement proved far more difficult for the two sides to agree.
And with “nothing agreed until everything is agreed”, that meant the agreement wasn’t done at all.
The issues were vital for both sides. The EU wanted guarantees that UK companies would not undercut its standards in what it said would be unfair competition with its businesses.
Britain could not sign up to any deal that tied any future government’s ability to split from EU rules.
Read more: What has been agreed, and what happens next?
Are we finally going to get a deal?
We are finally expecting a Brexit deal to be announced this morning and, while this has been said before, this time it might actually happen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson led a late-night call with Cabinet ministers to update them on the situation.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer suggested an announcement could come early today.
“Work will continue throughout the night,” he said shortly after midnight.
“Grabbing some sleep is recommended to all Brexit-watchers at this point. It will hopefully be an early start tomorrow morning…”
The UK side expected talks over the legal text of the deal – reportedly around 2,000 pages long – to continue into the early hours.
Here is The Telegraph’s front page this morning.