Michel Barnier: Narrow path to Brexit deal still open

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LUXEMBOURG CITY — Michel Barnier thinks a Brexit deal is difficult but still possible this week.

The EUs chief negotiator told ministers on Tuesday the U.K. and the EU are yet to resolve the issue of customs in Northern Ireland, working on a solution that implies that checks on goods will have to take place outside the island of Ireland in some way that aligns with EU law, according to a diplomat in the room. Experts from the European Commission have been brought into discussions since Sunday to try to resolve the issue and Barnier said a “narrow path” to a deal is still open.

However, he added that only one day remains for the two sides to agree a new version of the text if a deal is to be signed off by leaders at the European Council summit on Thursday, the diplomats said.

“Even if the agreement will be difficult, more and more difficult, to be frank, it is still possible this week,” Barnier told reporters as he arrived at Tuesdays meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg to debrief them on the intensive Brexit talks launched at the end of last week.

“Obviously, any agreement must work for everyone, the whole of the United Kingdom, and the whole of the European Union … it is high time to turn good intention in a legal text,” he said.

“We always have shown a great deal of flexibility, but that hasnt led to the necessary changes in London unfortunately” — Michael Roth, German EU minister

Luxembourgs Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn echoed Barniers more positive tone. “They will try to reach a deal by this evening, if not possible its likely there will be another summit. There is some optimism,” he said.

U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay made an unexpected visit to the meeting in Luxembourg. “The talks are ongoing. We need to give them space to proceed. But detailed conversations are under way and a deal is still very possible,” he said.

One EU diplomat said its possible there will be a new legal text Wednesday when EU27 ambassadors will meet to scrutinize it ahead of the gathering of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday. This text must provide a feasible solution for the key problem of how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the diplomats say.

The new talks started to show signs of progress last Thursday after a meeting between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar, leading Barnier to announce Friday the resumption of serious talks.

New talks started to show signs of progress last Thursday after a meeting between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar | Noel Mullen/ Irish Government Press Office via Getty Images

However, ministers arriving at the General Affairs Council were skeptical.

“We always have shown a great deal of flexibility, but that hasnt led to the necessary changes in London unfortunately,” said German EU Minister Michael Roth. “I wont bet any money on a Brexit happening this week, but I will wait for Mr. Barniers presentation,” said Maltas EU Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.

The two sides are exchanging draft texts, said another EU diplomat, but Brexit officials say they have not been informed of any new text presented by London. Another diplomat said the U.K. is expected to come back with a new draft for discussion Tuesday, though diplomats caution that a breakthrough doesnt seem likely anytime soon.

In light of skepticism that a deal can be agreed in time, discussions are also focused on possible extensions to negotiations. Amélie de Montchalin, the French EU Minister, Read More – Source

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