Barnier and Barclay break bread, but not Brexit deadlock

There was pan-fried North Sea sole with Scottish scallops and Welsh samphire, roast duck breast and pear parfait for dessert, but a concession on the Northern Ireland backstop was most certainly not on the table.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, spent Monday evening dining with his (relatively) new British counterpart, Stephen Barclay, at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels.

Barclay is the U.K.’s third state secretary for exiting the European Union since the Brexit process started. Indeed, Prime Minister Theresa May seems to go through negotiators faster than Barnier and Barclay went through bottles of Sancerre and Saint-Émilion wine at their dinner. But Barclay may have arrived for the best part — with the March 29 deadline fast-approaching and a final, crucial deal on the U.K.’s departure still waiting to be clinched.

Barnier, leaving the dinner on Monday, described the discussion with Barclay as positive, but declared yet again that the withdrawal treaty agreed in November would not be reopened or renegotiated.

“Constructive talks,” he told reporters outside. “It is clear from our side that we are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, but we will continue our discussion in the coming days.”

“I found Corbyn’s letter interesting in tone and in content” — Michel Barnier

Earlier in the day, while visiting Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in Luxembourg, Barnier amped up the pressure on May by making the EU’s most openly positive remarks about a proposal by May’s archrival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for Britain to remain within the EU’s customs union.

“I found Corbyn’s letter interesting in tone and in content,” Barnier said.

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