The Brexit imbroglio has brought Europe to the edge so many times in the four years since the referendum in 2016 saw the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union that the latest concerns about wide divergences on the shape that a trade deal may take provoke tired grimaces rather than intense worries.

Yet the clock is ticking and rather menacingly as 31 December, the date by which parliaments in London and Brussels must endorse a trade deal, approaches. On Saturday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen described the differences as large while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chose to call them significant.

The differences in adjectives though are relatively insignificant when compared to what keeps the two sides apart. The major sticking points remain questions about British fishing rights and rules for competition between British and European companies. Neither invites an easy resolution for they concern both sovereignty and the economic future of Europe. But neither side has left the table despite the large differences.

Last week saw the conclusion of two weeks of negotiations described as intense and this week will see the arrival of EU negotiator Michael Berner in London to resume discussions with his UK counterpart David Frost. Additionally, Mrs von der Leyen and Mr Johnson have kept in regular touch to iron out differences.

Observers had earlier said a trade deal needed to be agreed upon by 31 October, if it was to have a realistic chance of being vetted and ratified by the two Parliaments by the year-end.

When that day came and went, and the deal appeared as elusive as ever, many despaired at the possibility of the United Kingdom leaving the EU single market and customs union at midnight on 31 December without having a framework in place for business across the English Channel.

Now, it is hoped that if conclusions can be reached this week, or at the very least by 15 November, a hastily put together timetable might yet bring a deal to fruition. Perhaps the negotiators are also indulging in a bit of brinksmanship, for the shorter the time allowed to legislators to discuss an exit that has led to as much acrimony in the UK as it has in Europe, the greater the chances of it being hustled to approval.

As Europe imposes fresh clampdowns to counter Covid-19 and as restive populations bristle at restrictions in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the continent badly needs to get rid of the fishbone ~ quite literally in this case ~ stuck in its throat.