Michel Barnier: Brexit deal 'realistic' within six to eight weeks
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has said it is “realistic” for the UK and Brussels to strike a deal within the next six to eight weeks.
In a major boost for Theresa May, Michel Barnier said that despite outstanding issues such as the Northern Ireland border, it would be “possible” for both sides to reach agreement in time for the deal to be formally ratified ahead of Britain's formal departure next March.
Speaking at a conference in Slovenia, Mr Barnier said: “I think that if we are realistic, we are able to reach an agreement on the first stage of this negotiation - which is the Brexit treaty - within six or eight weeks.
“Taking into account the time necessary for the ratification process - the House of Commons on one side, the European Parliament and Council on the other side - we must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it’s possible.”
He insisted both sides were “we are not far from agreement”, with 80% to 85% of issues already reached.
However he added that the sticking point of keeping a frictionless border in Ireland still needed to be settled.
“There are many issues which are not yet solved,” Mr Barnier said. “We have to solve this issue of Ireland and some others in the next six to eight weeks.”
His remarks came as the Prime Minister faces increased pressure from backbench Tory MPs to abandon the Brexit plan agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers in July.
Steve Baker, who quit as Brexit minister in protest, said up to 80 Tory MPs could vote against it in the Commons – threatening a “catastrophic split” within the party
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We have had positive engagement over the summer with EU leaders in relation to the Chequers plan. That engagement continues."