European leaders meet yesterday seemingly determined to resist pressure from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give ground in post-Brexit trade negotiations.
The 27 leaders have tried to keep Brexit off the agenda at their recent summits, trusting in EU negotiator Michel Barnier to defend their interests. But Johnson, frustrated at the slow progress towards a new trade deal, warned on Wednesday that he would decide after the meeting whether to pull the plug on talks.
He has warned that he could walk away from the negotiations unless the results of the latest two-day Brussels' summit point the way to a breakthrough, but EU officials do not recognise his deadline, and insist they remain united in their demands.
The leaders were to tackle Brexit first when the gather for their summit in Brussels yesterday, but a draft of their conclusions seen by AFP offered little to London.
A earlier version circulating on Wednesday had proposed that Barnier "intensify" his discussions with UK negotiator David Frost in order to reach a deal quickly that could be ratified and implemented before Britain leaves the single market on December 31.
But the latest draft seen by AFP as the leaders gathered had dropped this word and says merely that the summit urges negotiators "to continue negotiations in the coming weeks, and calls on the UK to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible."
During a cross-Channel call on the eve of the crunch talks, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned that there was "still a lot of work ahead of us" adding that Brussels wants a deal but "not at any price".
If no deal is reached, trade rules will revert to the bare bones of World Trade Organization regulations.