EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told ambassadors in Brussels Friday that there are grounds for going deeper into negotiations with the U.K.
Barnier met his opposite number U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Friday morning to take stock of the talks. Diplomats had been pessimistic about significant progress by the end of this week, seen as a necessary precursor to a deal at the European Council summit on Thursday next week.
After a fractious start to the week, the Brexit mood music became more positive following a meeting between Boris Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday. After that meeting Varadkar said he could see a “pathway to a deal,” language echoed in a statement issued by Downing Street.
However, skepticism remains among the EU27 that a deal can be done in time to agree it at next week’s leader’s summit.
Following Friday’s stock take, both a U.K. government spokesperson and Barnier told journalists after the meeting that it had been “constructive.” However, Barnier sounded a note of caution as he left: “I’ve already said that Brexit is like climbing a mountain: we need vigilance, determination and patience.”
Earlier in the day, Tusk told reporters that the U.K. “still not come forward with a workable, realistic proposal” and that “there’s no guarantee of success and the time is practically up” but added: “Even the slightest chance must be used.”
Three diplomats present at the Barnier briefing for EU27 ambassadors said he had recommended stepping up the talks. One characterised the change as moving from a phase of questioning the U.K. negotiating team about aspects of London’s offer to a true negotiation dialogue. But a second diplomat said this did not mean the talks were heading into a so-called tunnel where the two sides enter into intensive talks with little outside communication.
“It is not really a tunnel. We will go deeper into negotiations,” the diplomat said, adding, “we don’t want to raise expectations.”
A third diplomat said: “intensive discussions are planned throughout the next days.”