EU leaders have been told by Ursula von der Leyen that Britain exiting the transition period without a trade and security deal is now the most likely outcome.
During a 10-minute briefing at the end of an all-night summit in Brussels, the European commission president refused to put a percentage on the chances of agreement but told the leaders there was a “higher probability for no deal than deal”, sources said.
With the Sunday deadline agreed by Von der Leyen and Boris Johnson looming, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said all capitals should agree a common line in the event of the negotiations ending in failure over the weekend.
Ireland’s prime minister, Micheál Martin, whose country would be the EU member state most impacted by the lack of a deal, emphasised the damage that would be reaped if the negotiators in Brussels could not agree on terms.
He repeated the EU mantra, however, that a deal would not be at any price given the risk to European businesses if their British counterparts were to benefit from lower environmental, social and labour standards while enjoying zero tariff terms for their exports into the bloc.
Von der Leyen had updated the exhausted heads of state and government following an all-night discussion over the bloc’s greenhouse gas target for 2030.
An EU official said the Brexit negotiations were proving difficult in the final days and that the “probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal”. “Negotiations resuming today,” the official added. “To be seen by Sunday whether a deal is possible.”
During a dinner on Wednesday evening, Johnson and Von der Leyen gave their negotiators – David Frost and Michel Barnier – until Sunday to try to break the Brexit impasse.
Johnson informed his cabinet on Thursday that the government needed to ready itself for a no-deal exit given the terms on offer from Brussels.
He later told broadcasters that he was willing to dash to Paris, Berlin and Brussels again to secure an agreement but that he would not accept the current offer.
The prime minister has claimed that the deal proposed by the EU would force the government to follow Brussels as it developed its rule book or face automatic fines.
On Friday morning, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said he believed there remained “a significant possibility” that a deal could still be secured, and that the two sides were “90% of the way there”. But he said the government needed to “push back” on proposals that failed to respect the UK’s sovereignty.
Dowden said: “There are these two areas which are outstanding and which no reasonable prime minister could accept.
“Namely, we do need to control our own sovereign waters and particularly our fishing policy.
“And, as we leave the EU, we should be free to set our own rules and regulations and not face penalties if the EU changes their regulations and we don’t match them. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to push back on those things.”