The EU warns May that a Brexit breakthrough is still 'a long way off'

GettyMichel Barnier meets Theresa May
  • Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier to hold six hours of Brexit talks on Friday.
  • The pair will take stock of Brexit talks before holding an afternoon press conference.
  • The UK and EU are still a “long way off” a deal on the Northern Irish backstop, senior EU source tells BI.
  • The pound surged this week following suggestions that Barnier and Emmanuel Macron were softening their Brexit positions.
  • Both Barnier and French minister, Nathalie Loiseau, have shot down this suggestion.

LONDON – UK and EU negotiators are still a “long way off” from making a breakthrough in talks, a senior EU source has told Business Insider, as the two sides prepare to meet for six hours of talks on Friday.

The British press has recently jumped on suggestions that the EU could be softening its position following interventions from chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and French President Emmanuel Macron.

However, figures in Brussels were quick to shoot down suggestions that Barnier was softening his position, and pointed out that the EU has always been prepared to strike an unprecedented Brexit deal, as long as it respects the bloc’s red lines.

Barnier told German media outlet Deutschlandfunk that the Brexit withdrawal agreement could not be “built to the detriment of who we are” and said: “we have to preserve and protect what makes us.”

On Friday morning, Nathalie Loiseau, the French minister for European Affairs, told the Today programme that she was “surprised” to see the British press suggest that President Macron was softening his Brexit position.

“First and foremost, The unity of the 27 and support towards Michel Barnier is extremely strong,” Loiseau told Today.

“And second, what the President mentioned in the conference of ambassadors earlier this week, was something he already mentioned last year.

“That is to say that in the future, there is going to be an EU that needs to be reformed, and there’s going to be strong relations with countries outside the EU. Especially the UK, but also Russia and Turkey.

“This is what he said last September and repeated this week. There is no news around this.”

She added: “The problem with the current proposal of the UK government is it would join the benefits rights of Norway with the obligations of Canada… There has to be a balance of rights and obligations.”

UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, will meet for six hours on Friday “to take stock” of the current state of Brexit talks, before a short press conference this afternoon.

The two sides need to reach an agreement on the thorny issue of the Northern Irish backstop – the fallback option to take effect if talks on future trade fail to preserve the open border on the island of Ireland.

An agreement on the backstop is still “a long way off,” senior EU source told Business Insider. There are just over six weeks until the October European Council summit, where negotiators had hoped to finalise a withdrawal deal.

The pound surged this week after Barnier said the EU was ready to strike an unprecedented deal with the UK. This was followed by reports that Macron would urge EU leaders to be more generous to Britain.

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