The government will push ahead with Brexit legislation that could break international law – despite fears that it could upset the EU at a critical time for trade talks.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Sky News the government’s Internal Market Bill would return to the House of Commons today.
Time is running out to secure a post-Brexit trade deal, with Thursday’s summit of EU leaders seen as a deadline for an agreement to be reached.
This weekend saw further talks on a possible deal, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday.
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen are due to talk again on Monday evening, to assess whether a trade agreement can still be reached.
However the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was said to have told the bloc’s national ambassadors on Monday morning that he was “rather downbeat” about the prospects of a deal.
One EU diplomat said: “EU-UK negotiations have entered the endgame, time is running out quickly.
“Despite intensive negotiations until late last night, the gaps on level playing field, governance and fisheries are still not bridged.
“The outcome is still uncertain, it can still go both ways. The EU is ready to go the extra mile to agree on a fair, sustainable and balanced deal for citizens in the EU and UK.
“It is for the UK to choose between such a positive outcome or a no deal outcome.”
Meanwhile, an EU source told Sky News they were “not expecting anything substantial yet” although they predicted “some more drama” and said trade talks were “moving in the right direction on fishing”.
The Internal Market Bill, which has been condemned by critics both in Westminster and abroad, seeks to allow ministers to override the Withdrawal Agreement – the UK’s divorce deal with the EU that was agreed last year.
The government has admitted the legislation could see the UK breach international law, but argue it is needed to protect the integrity of the UK and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
However, in a sign progress could yet be made on Irish border issues, it was announced senior cabinet minister Michael Gove would meet with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Monday.
A UK government spokesman said the pair would meet to “discuss issues related to their work as co-chairs of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee”.
“The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee oversees UK and EU implementation, application and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The work of the Joint Committee is separate from the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations.”
Mr Sefcovic posted on Twitter that the two sides would be “working hard” to make sure post-Brexit arrangements for the Irish border were “fully operational” on 1 January, after the end of the Brexit transition period.
It has been speculated that a successful meeting between Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic, as well as the conclusion of a UK-EU post-Brexit trade agreement, could see the UK government later drop the most contentious parts of the Internal Market Bill.
The pound fell by more than two cents against the US dollar on Monday to just over $1.32 as investors grew more anxious about the possibility of no deal.
It was a sharp reverse from market optimism over the talks last week which saw sterling climb above $1.35 for the first time this year.