Boris Johnson has said he is still hopeful about reaching a Brexit deal with the EU but that it was proving “very, very difficult” to make progress.
Later this week Johnson will head to Brussels for face-to-face talks with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in an attempt to salvage a deal, with time running out before the current trading arrangements expire at the end of the month.
Johnson said he hoped the “power of sweet reason” would triumph but Brussels had to accept there were limits to what terms the UK would be prepared to accept.
Talks have faltered on the issues of fishing rights, the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies, and the way that any deal would be governed.
In a message to Brussels, the prime minister said: “Our friends have just got to understand the UK has left the EU in order to be able to exercise democratic control over the way we do things.
“There is also the issue of fisheries where we are a long way apart still.
“But hope springs eternal, I will do my best to sort it out if we can.”
Johnson’s trip to Brussels is seen as a make-or-break moment for the process after months of talks led by Lord Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier.
The prime minister acknowledged that there may be a point where it is “time to draw stumps” and accept that a deal is impossible.
“There are just limits beyond which no sensible, independent government or country could go and people have got to understand that.”
He again insisted the UK will “prosper mightily” with or without a trade deal with the European Union, despite grim warnings from the budget watchdog and the governor of the Bank of England about the impact.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has suggested that a no-deal situation could wipe 2% off gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the economy, in 2021.
Bank governor Andrew Bailey has warned that the long-term damage caused by a no-deal situation would be worse than the economic hit from coronavirus.
But Johnson urged people to “be in good cheer” as there were “great options ahead” for the country.