European Union member states have started to prepare procedures to put in place a new trade deal with Britain from 1 January, if one is agreed, three diplomatic sources in the bloc told Reuters on Wednesday.
During a meeting with the EU's executive European Commission - which is negotiating with Britain on behalf of all the 27 member states in the bloc - national diplomats in Brussels were told to be ready for a meeting on Thursday, should a deal come.
"It seems the deal is pretty much there. It's a matter of announcing it today or tomorrow," said one EU diplomat, saying the European Council, which represents the member states in Brussels, had started preparations to enable so-called "provisional application", a fast-track implementation of the agreement.
While both sides have said for days a deal is getting closer, the UK has been considerably more downbeat on the chances of getting there - let alone before Christmas - than the EU side.