MPs and peers will begin their Christmas break on Thursday evening, the government has announced, amid waning hopes that a Brexit deal will be struck in time to be approved in parliament next week.
With talks on trade and security continuing in Brussels amid signs of progress and compromise, ministers had considered stipulating that parliament should sit on Monday and Tuesday to allow legislation implementing a deal to be passed rapidly.
However, the government has signalled that the Christmas recess will start on Thursday, with Downing Street sources suggesting a deal is not expected to be finalised imminently.
The move does not preclude parliament being recalled before January if a deal were to be struck, however – a process that usually requires 48 hours’ notice. A No 10 spokesman said: “That recall could be as early as next week.”
Alternatively, a bill could be rushed through between Christmas and New Year’s Day, with likely support from Labour.
With Boris Johnson appearing more upbeat about the prospects of a deal, some in Westminster interpreted the decision to press ahead with parliamentary recess as a piece of political theatre on the way to an agreement.
Earlier on Wednesday, the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, warned the European parliament that the fraught issue of fish could still sink the talks, saying agreement was “so close but yet … so far away”.
A No 10 spokesperson said three bills necessary to pave the way for the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December would have passed through all their parliamentary stages by Thursday evening.
“In the absence of further substantive business, we will – subject to usual approval by the House - go into recess tomorrow [Thursday], but with the knowledge that we will recall MPs and peers to legislate for a deal if one is secured,” the spokesperson said.
A Labour spokesperson said: “Boris Johnson should get on with delivering the deal he said was ‘oven-ready’ rather than dragging the country to the wire.”