EUROPEAN UNION negotiations have a habit of dragging on until the very last moment before a rabbit is produced from a hat, but the impasse over our Brexit deal seems dangerously real.

That is understandable. Practically every other trade deal in the world has been about countries who wish to come closer together by pooling a bit of their sovereignty in order that they may co-operate more closely for their mutual benefit.

But Brexit is about Britain breaking away from the EU and being able to exert its independence by diverging further from EU regulations in the future if it sees fit.

Many formerly Labour voters in the North-East gave Boris Johnson a mandate a year ago to get Britain out of the EU when it seemed that just the force of his personality could break the logjam.

But North-East exporting industries still need to be tied as closely as possible to their biggest markets in Europe.

Through the mist of scaremongering, no one really knows what the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit would be. Perhaps in healthy times, we could afford to take the gamble that it would work out OK.

But we live in desperate times, when our economy has already shrunk by an unprecedented 11 per cent. Any further economic dip, however small, will add to profound problems. We need our negotiators to come back with a deal.