The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that there is “a real risk” that no agreement will be reached with the UK in talks on its withdrawal from the political bloc. Speaking on a visit to the Border area of Ireland, Mr Barnier said that the EU was preparing for all options, including the possibility that Brussels and London cannot reach a deal on the UK’s departure in March 2019.
Negotiations have become bogged down over how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Speaking at an event in Dundalk, Barnier and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar heaped further pressure on Britain to offer more detailed solutions to progress talks ahead of the next summit of EU leaders in June.
“There is a real risk; we have to be prepared for all options including no deal. It is not my preference,” Barnier told the All-Island Civic Forum on Brexit, a gathering of civic and business groups, at Dundalk Institute of Technology.
Barnier called for rapid agreement to be reached with the UK by June on “several new points” around the scope of post-Brexit alignment on regulations and safety controls.
He told a press conference that he sees the June summit as a “stepping stone” to October’s deadline for an overall agreement on Brexit but called for substantial progress in the run-up to the June meeting.
“We need to agree rapidly by June the scope of alignment, what I call the safety controls that respect the single market,” he told reporters in Dundalk, speaking alongside Mr Varadkar.
Mr Barnier called for new proposals from the British to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and warned that unless there was a new proposal beyond the so-called backstop option to keep Northern Ireland under EU economic rules, there was a danger that negotiation could collapse.
“Until we reach this agreement and this operational solution for Northern Ireland, a backstop, and we are ready for any proposal…there is a risk, a real risk” he said.
Speaking to reporters, Varadkar urged the British to alter its approach to negotiations saying that the Government and Barnier’s team were “absolutely united” that there had to be “meaningful progress” by June.
“The United Kingdom’s approach to the negotiations will need to change in some way,” he said.