Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, last night warned of a “real moment of truth” in October when both sides are expected to reach an agreement on their future relationship. The Frenchman insisted a deal would have to be wrapped up in order to complete the ratification process at the European Council and Parliament before the end of the transition period. He said: “The real moment of truth will be in October. That is when we will have to be ready to put a draft deal to the European Parliament and to the European Council if we are to have it ratified by the end of the year.”
During a recent showdown with Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the Prime Minister urged them to intensify negotiations in order to strike a summer deal.
The European Commission President and her counterpart at the European Council both agreed to a newly accelerated timetable of talks that begin next week.
But European sources said during the private discussions, Mr Johnson “did not mention” any potential deadlines.
The Prime Minister has signalled publicly that he believes a deal could be done by the end of July.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, however, has suggested October is a more realistic deadline for an agreement.
Brussels has refused to set its own cut-off point, with EU negotiators telling their British counterparts they will work until a deal is “mathematically impossible”, a source said.
Negotiations will resume next week when David Frost, the Prime Minister’s chief trade negotiator with the bloc, is expected to meet Mr Barnier in Brussels.
The Frenchman last night vowed to work on “clever compromises” in order to broker a deal in the coming months.
But he warned Mr Johnson he would have to meet him halfway when trade talks resume next week.
The Brussels bureaucrat told a Brussels-based think-tank a future relationship pact is “still in our reach” but hit out at Downing Street for showing “no willingness” to find a middle ground.
Mr Barnier claimed he could walk away from trade negotiations if British negotiators refuse to soften their fisheries demands.
He said: “If the UK sticks to its positions there will be no discussion on fisheries and no discussion on trade – we are open to find a compromise.”
The Brussels bureaucrat, however, said progress is being made in a number of areas, including police and nuclear cooperation.
Mr Barnier insisted that he has enough “flexibility” in the mandate handed to him by European capitals to conclude a deal.
“I have enough trust from the European Parliament and European Council to find a margin of flexibility,” he said.
But the Brussels negotiator also hit out at Britain’s attempts to broker post-Brexit trade deals across the globe.
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He claimed the UK is offering better terms to Australia, New Zealand and Canada than it is to the EU.
He added: “Already we made a number of openings in key areas but the UK showed no willingness to engage. We are ready to work on landing zones.
“We have not received the right answer from the UK side. In any case the real moment of truth will be in October.”