BORIS Johnson was staring a No Deal Brexit in the face last night after EU delays barely left any time to break the deadlock.
In a caustic hour-long phone call with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the PM said her team’s “unrealistic” demands had reached their limits.
After 4½ years of wrangling, the two sides are as far apart as ever on fishing rights, a level playing field for business and the role of the European courts.
Mr Johnson agreed to a “final throw of the dice” and will send a small team of negotiators to last-ditch talks in Brussels today.
But he bluntly told Ms von der Leyen that there was precious little time to bridge the gaps in the 25 days left before the transition period ends.
He said the process was wrecked by EU time-wasting over legal texts last month.
There are just two days to reach a deal now.
The last chance to have it signed off by 27 leaders is at the European Council meeting on Thursday but the text will need to be translated into different languages before then.
Britain’s chief negotiator Lord Frost will head to Brussels this morning.
But in his call, Mr Johnson stressed there could be no doubt it may not end in an agreement, and arranged to speak to Ms von der Leyen again tomorrow night.
A source close to the talks said: “This is the final throw of the dice. There is a fair deal to be done that works for both sides, but this will only happen if the EU is willing to respect the fundamental principles of sovereignty and control.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has been blamed for the latest stalemate after turning down the offer of three years’ unfettered access to Britain’s fishing waters.
Instead, he demanded a ten-year free-for-all, plus new rules that would slap tariffs on UK goods if it fails to follow EU rules.
An EU source admitted: “The situation is serious. Level playing field and fish are hard to solve. It’s not just technical, it’s political. But we’ll give it another try.”
One insider said the “long call” laid bare the “tough road ahead”.
Mr Johnson called Ms von der Leyen from his Chequers country retreat after it became clear the only way of unlocking the talks was by political intervention.
They spoke frankly, and he spelled out that the EU’s demands did not recognise the UK as an independent country.
The pair later issued a joint statement accepting that there were “significant differences” on three critical issues and that no deal is feasible if they are not resolved.
They added: “While recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.”
EU capitals are uneasy about the French demands and were encouraged by the PM getting personally involved.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last night: “We will see if there is a way forward.”
Realistically a fledgling deal needs to be struck by Wednesday.
To add to the urgency, the controversial Internal Markets Bill returns to Parliament this week.
Without a deal on the table it is likely to be voted through.