‘Exasperated’ Barnier growing ‘impatient’ as EU chief heads to London for Brexit showdown

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The Brussels diplomat was said to be in a downbeat mood earlier today when he held talks with the European Parliament’s Brexit committee. Following a coronavirus outbreak in the EU’s team, he spent his first day out of self-isolation discussing the state of play in the trade talks with senior figures from the bloc. Mr Barnier complained that “significant divergences” remain between the two sides with time running out to agree a trade deal ready to come into force when the UK’s post-Brexit transition out of the EU single market and customs union concludes on January 1.

In his meeting with MEPs, the Frenchman said there had been no sufficient movement on the main sticking points to declare a breakthrough.

According to a source familiar with the discussions, he was said to be “exasperated and impatient” with his recent head-to-heads with UK negotiator Lord Frost.

One insider said: “Limited progress with big gaps still remaining on the usual issues. Not much to really write home about.”

But despite the deadlock, Mr Barnier insisted progress had been made across much of the Brexit trade deal.

A source said both sides were closing in on agreements for judicial and security cooperation, the free flow of workers and social security.

Mr Barnier also claimed member states had backed his plan to fast-track the ratification process by ensuring only EU leaders and MEPS will have a say on the final agreement.

The EU Parliament is set to hold an emergency session on December 28 to give its approval.

The Brussels diplomat told the senior MEPs that the bloc would have to recognise Britain’s status as an independent coastal state to get a deal on fisheries over the line.

In a private meeting of EU ambassadors, Mr Barnier was reported to be downbeat about the chances of a deal.

An EU source said: “Barnier said the deal remains difficult. The EU and the UK remain at loggerheads over the main outstanding issues, and he wasn’t particularly optimistic about the prospects of the negotiations.”

Mr Barnier earlier this week claimed he was prepared to call-off negotiations unless he was confident a breakthrough was possible over the weekend.

Brussels sources said the two sides were still “nautical miles” away from each other on the issue of fishing quotas.

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Panicked EU states have ordered Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen immediately trigger the bloc’s emergency plans for a no deal Brexit.

An EU insider said: “A deal cannot be guaranteed at this stage and a no deal outcome cannot be excluded. The EU needs to prepare diligently for all possible outcomes.”

But the French government was urging the EU to stand firm and not be “intimidated” by Britain with the Brexit trade talks set to go down to the wire.

Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said: “The British need an agreement more than we do. Europeans must be convinced of this and convinced of their strength in these negotiations.”

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Boris Johnson insisted a deal is there for the EU to sign up to but questioned Brussels’ commitment to secure the pact.

The Prime Minister said: “The likelihood of a deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU.

“There is a deal to be done if they want to do it, which I think would benefit people on both sides of the Channel.”

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