Barnier says an EU-UK deal may be possible

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has, somewhat unexpectedly, expressed confidence at a closed-door meeting with national envoys to the bloc that a new deal with Britain may indeed be possible, un-named diplomatic sources reportedly told Reuters.

Barnier’s comments after the latest round of EU-UK negotiations last week stand in contrast with the downbeat assessment he delivered publicly in saying that London’s rigid positions on fisheries and the level playing field guarantees of fair competition meant a deal was “unlikely” for now.

Further highlighting that the internal EU analysis of the latest in the tortuous Brexit process may be more sanguine than some officials have suggested in public, Barnier’s comments were echoed by Ireland and the Netherlands, according to the sources, who are familiar with last Friday’s discussions.

Envoys for the two EU countries — expected to take the biggest hit from any change in trade rules following Brexit — said they remained confident that a new deal with Britain would eventually materialise, the sources said.

In discussions among representatives of the 27 EU member states about fisheries and the latest on Brexit, the Dutch envoy quipped that a deal would eventually “come swimming across (the English) Channel”, according to the sources.

The sources also revealed internal discord between EU member states on the bloc’s fisheries strategy in talks with Britain, saying that Lithuania and Hungary expressed concern at the meeting that a stringent stance on the matter risked threatening overall chances for sealing a deal.

The sources said these comments were rebuked as “unacceptable” by France, for which the future of its fishing industry is a sensitive economic and political matter.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, where Barnier is the official responsible for Brexit negotiations for the whole bloc of 27 nations, said it had nothing to add to the negotiator’s comments last week.

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