By Arj Singh
The prime minister will have dinner with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is what is being seen as potentially the last chance to break the impasse in talks on a trade deal.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier earlier this week told MEPs that Wednesday was the final opportunity to reach an agreement.
A failure to do so would see the UK crashing out of the transition period into World Trade Organisation rules for trade with the EU from January 1, which is predicted to be the most economically damaging Brexit outcome.
A No.10 spokesperson said: “The PM will travel to Brussels tomorrow for dinner with VDL to continue discussions on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.”
Von der Leyen said: “I look forward to welcoming [the] UK prime minister tomorrow evening.
“We will continue our discussion on the partnership agreement.”
It comes after the prime minister dropped controversial legislation that would have broken international law by allowing ministers to breach the withdrawal agreement (WA) he struck with the EU last year.
The UK’s decision to bin the plans came after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic struck an “agreement in principle” on how trade will work for Northern Ireland from January 1.
It has expectations from some observers that both sides are clearing the path for Johnson and von der Leyen to strike a wider deal on the future UK/EU relationship.
But others have suggested it could make a no-deal outcome easier by sorting out all outstanding issues in negotiations over the implementation of the WA.
At a Brussels press conference, Sefcovic said the deal on Northern Ireland removed “one big obstacle” to a wider agreement.
“I hope that this would create positive momentum for the discussions on the free trade agreement,” he said.
“As you know we are still very far apart.”
He added: “We removed, I would say, one big obstacle from the way.”
It came after Johnson said on Tuesday that trade talks with the bloc were proving “very tricky” and that it was “very, very difficult” to make progress, but that he was hopeful about reaching a deal.
UK chief negotiator Lord Frost and Barnier spent Tuesday drawing up a list of remaining differences for the PM and von der Leyen to discuss at the dinner.
The showdown talks come ahead of a meeting of the 27 EU leaders at a European Council summit on Thursday and Friday.
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 PM 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 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.”
But Germany’s European affairs minister, Michael Roth, said “political will in London” was needed to get a deal.