For months now the negotiating teams have been going round in circles. Although most of a deal is done between the EU and UK negotiating teams, with the terms turned into legal text awaiting the addition of the final clauses, the two sides remain stuck on three questions.

How are fishing rights and quotas to be carved up?

What rules will Britain have to agree to observe in return for tariff-free and quota-free trade with the EU? This refers to the so-called level playing field.

And what will be the arbitration mechanism for settling disputes on the level playing field? If it gives European courts the final say, Brexiteers will accuse Boris of betrayal and he’ll face a rebellion in the Commons.

Boris is refusing to move – it seems – on the vital questions. He sees this in simple terms – that the EU refuses to accept that the UK is an independent country. The EU thinks Britain still does not understand what Brexit means and that it must guard itself against unfair competition from the piratical Brits.

There are some suggestions that behind the scenes the EU shifted a little in recent days at the prompting of Macron and Merkel, but we’ll see how meaningful that is.

It is an incredible situation in one sense, a failure of statecraft. There are only three weeks until the end of transition and business has little idea what rules it will be trading with when it comes to EU markets.

The speculation spun around in all manner of directions over the weekend. At points the process descended into pantomime. Progress had been made on fish, reported some outlets quoting EU sources on Sunday night. Oh no it hadn’t, said others.

It all feels like no deal.

How bad will it be if that happens?

“Bad but not Armageddon,” says someone who worked on the no deal planning.

“Get ready to eat a lot of fish,” says a minister. EU fishing fleets would be – theoretically – locked out of British waters. Britain would be locked out of European markets where most of the fish is sold.

Without some flash of inspiration or statesmanlike act of leadership in the next few critical hours, it looks like these talks are going down the plug-hole of history. Once again, as has so often been the case in European history, serial miscalculation and the misreading of intentions are combining to produce an accidental outcome.