Michel Barnier offers downbeat take on Brexit talks to diplomats and MEPs

It’s still not clear whether a deal on the future relationship between the EU and the U.K. can be struck in the coming days, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told EU ambassadors and MEPs today, according to several officials at those meetings.

Barnier stressed that while progress has been made, the three outstanding issues remain the same: the level playing field to avoid unfair competition, the governance of the deal and fisheries access. The former French minister also said during the meetings that reports over the weekend that a deal on fisheries had been struck were incorrect.

“His assessment doesn’t give much room for optimism,” said Mairead McGuinness, the EU commissioner for financial services. “If this was simple and straightforward and there was an oven-ready deal, as the prime minister said there would be — and then the oven wasn’t turned on. It has taken four years for us to get to a place today where we’re still far away from an agreement.”

“The outcome is still uncertain, it can still go both ways,” one EU diplomat said after Barnier’s briefing. “The EU is ready to go the extra mile to agree on a fair, sustainable and balanced deal for citizens in the EU and U.K. It is for the U.K. to chose between such a positive outcome or a no-deal outcome.”

Another EU diplomat said that “progress” was even too strong a word to summarize the work done in the last few days. A senior EU diplomat said that the only difference with previous briefings from Barnier was that it’s now about “crucial days instead of weeks.”

On the U.K. side, a Downing Street spokesperson offered little optimism beyond a statement that talks are ongoing. “We are in the final stages.

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