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Michel Barnier on a tight leash in high-stakes Brexit endgame

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EU countries are getting so nervous about concessions in the final phase of the Brexit negotiations they’ve reminded the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier not to cross the bloc’s red lines just to clinch a deal with the U.K.

That message was conveyed to Barnier, both by EU ambassadors on Wednesday and by EU sherpas on Thursday, according to several officials present at those meetings. Last Friday, fisheries ministers also reminded Barnier of his negotiating mandate and to maintain the current access to U.K. waters.

“We are millimeters from the bottom line of the mandate. For some issues, we’re even on the red line, and we don’t want to cross it,” said one EU diplomat.

Although the diplomat stressed confidence in Barnier, they added that a veto from EU countries could not be ruled out if he crosses any red lines. “If the mandate is not adhered to, they have every right to do so,” the diplomat said.

France is the most vocal in its worries about the final concessions, although others such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark are equally worried.

“We’re not pushing for a no deal … but we’re pushing for reaching an ambitious agreement,” a French government official said. “We push the negotiator to use the last days or even the last hours that we have left [to negotiate an agreement].”

EU countries also asked Barnier to start sharing parts of the texts informally to reassure EU capitals about the concessions being made.

One EU official said it made sense that EU capitals were becoming increasingly nervous, given how high the stakes are and how much the Commission is holding its cards to its chest during the endgame.

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