The EU’s chief negotiator has rejected British claims of a Brexit breakthrough, warning that a deal is not close despite ongoing London hopes of an agreement by the end of the month.
Michel Barnier said that he does not believe enough progress has been made to plan for a November 17 EU leaders meeting or November 22 special EU summit which would be key to any pre-December deal.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels as British prime minister Theresa May held a cabinet meeting in London, Mr Barnier said that, despite the backstop review plans, the reality is there is still “a real point of divergence” between EU and UK negotiators.
While saying there is still time to strike a deal, the EU’s chief negotiator repeated that there can be “no borders in Ireland” and said that as a result he does not believes either side of the standoff is close to resolving the situation.
“For now, we are still negotiating and I am not, as I am speaking to you this morning, able to tell you we are close to reaching an agreement,” Mr Barnier told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
While senior EU figures are privately believed to be hopeful of some progress being made as a result of the backstop review offer, Mr Barnier public comments are crucial to any formal developments being given the green light.
This is because an EU leaders, meeting potentially on November 17 and a mooted emergency EU summit on November 22 on Brexit cannot be organised without Mr Barnier’s permission, which he was not clearly indicating yesterday.
The view appears to jar with leaked British government papers yesterday which suggested Ms May could travel to Northern Ireland on November 24, the same day as the DUP’s annual conference.
The papers also suggest a schedule for how the British government would promote a deal to the public by the end of the month, with a potential extra cabinet meeting in the next week to potentially agree any deal.
While a backstop review is believed to be crucial to any progress, this review can only come into effect on the condition that the initial Northern Ireland backstop deal is allowed to be implemented in a worst-case scenario, if necessary.