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Michel Barnier given go-ahead from EU to return to intensive Brexit talks

Chances of a breakthrough appeared to rise after yesterday’s face-to-face talks.

Image: Francisco Seco

Updated Oct 11th 2019, 1:00 PM

THE EU’S BREXIT negotiator Michel Barnier has secured the approval from the leaders of the EU’s 27 member states to return to intensive Brexit negotiations, according to diplomats. 

Barnier’s meeting with ambassadors was still going on, but officials with knowledge of the talks said that the 27 other EU countries had responded positively.

“Yes, confirmed,” one diplomat told AFP. 

A statement published by the European Commission confirmed that the EU and the UK have agreed to “intensify discussions” over the coming days – but wasn’t clear on whether they would enter “tunnel” negotiations.

The EU’s position remains the same: there must be a legally operative solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, protects the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and safeguards the integrity of the Single Market.

It added: “The Commission will take stock with the European Parliament and Member States again on Monday in view of preparing the General Affairs Council (Article 50) on Tuesday morning.”

Breakfast in Brussels

Earlier, Barnier met with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay for two-hours in Brussels, as chances of a breakthrough appeared to rise after face-to-face talks between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

European Council President Donald Tusk had welcomed “promising signals” from Varadkar that a new deal may be possible, but warned that the UK has still not presented “a workable, realistic proposal”.

Yesterday, Varadkar and Johnson released a joint statement saying they could “see a pathway” to a possible agreement.

Barclay’s talks were viewed as the last chance to get a breakthrough on a Brexit deal ahead of a meeting of the European Council next Thursday and Friday, with the next Brexit deadline just three weeks away.

As the meeting got under way, Tusk tweeted: “The UK has still not come forward with a workable, realistic proposal. But I have received promising signals from Taoiseach
@LeoVaradkar that a deal is possible.

Even the slightest chance must be used. A no deal #Brexit will never be the choice of the EU.

The start of intense negotiations is expected to begin this weekend, ahead of the crunch EU heads of government summit on 17 and 18 October.

The unexpectedly cordial atmosphere of the meeting between Varadkar and Johnson led to speculation of a possible compromise on the contentious issue of the Northern Ireland border backstop.

Sterling rose sharply on international money markets in the wake of the talks.

Earlier

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the Cabinet had been briefed on the meeting, but would not explain what concessions may have prompted the surprise optimism.

“It does not benefit anyone to have a running commentary on live negotiations,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

After more than two hours of “detailed and constructive” discussions at a country manor on the Wirral yesterday, the two leaders said it was in “everybody’s interest” to get an agreement which would allow the UK to leave with a deal.

Varadkar said he hoped the progress they had made would be “sufficient” to enable intensive negotiations to resume in Brussels ahead of next week’s crucial EU summit.

The Taoiseach said: “I think it is possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion, and to have that done by the end of October, but there’s many a slip between cup and lip,” he said.

In terms of how long it will take, I can’t predict that with any certainty, but I think all sides would like there to be an agreement next week at the council if possible.
Obviously there’s a further deadline after that which is 31 October, so I would say a short pathway rather than a long one, but it’s impossible to predict that for sure.

Varadkar refused to be drawn on any “concessions” made by either side, while UK Government sources refused to be drawn on Irish press reports suggesting “significant movement” by the UK.

Tory former chancellor and arch-Brexiteer Lord Norman Lamont said he wanted to know what any UK concessions were. He told the BBC: “No, I am not worried. I have to know what the concessions are.

It does look as though there is a change of mood.

He added: “Maybe there is some change on the mechanism whereby the deal is approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

“Maybe there will be an opting-out mechanism rather than an opting-in mechanism.”

- with reporting from AFP and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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