Michel Barnier 'not optimistic' about avoiding no-deal Brexit
Michel Barnier has said he is "not optimistic" that a no-deal Brexit can be avoided ahead of the 31 October deadline.
Boris Johnson's hopes of striking a new Brexit deal with the bloc have been dealt a blow after the EU's chief Brexit negotiator rejected his demands to remove the Irish backstop.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly urged EU leaders to consider scrapping the proposal - aimed at ensuring there remains an open border with Ireland after Brexit - in order to avoid a no-deal exit.
But writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Barnier said the backstop was the "maximum flexibility" which could be offered to a non-member country.
"On the EU side, we had intense discussions with EU Member States on the need to guarantee the integrity of the EU’s Single Market, while keeping that border fully open," he wrote.
"The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state."
He added: "I am not optimistic about avoiding a 'no deal' scenario but I remain determined to explore all avenues that the UK government will present that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.
“Uncertainty has festered for far too long in the UK, in particular in Northern Ireland, as well as in Ireland and all other EU countries, for that matter.”
In recent days Mr Johnson had vowed to "up the tempo" in his bid to provide alternatives to the backstop propsal ahead of a crunch EU summit in October.
But speaking during a meeting of foreign ministers on Friday, Irish deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said the UK had provided "nothing credible.... in terms of alternatives to the backstop.”
His comments come ahead of an expected bid by anti-Brexit MPs to take control of the parliamentary agenda to try and force Mr Johnson to seek an extension beyond the Hallowe'en deadline.
But the plans have been slammed by Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal planning, who said removing the Brexit deadline would "diminish" the chances of EU leaders agreeing to a new deal with the UK.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said: "I hope my colleagues in the House of Commons will give the Prime Minister the time and space to pursue that opening and get a deal we can all support.
"The best way to leave with a deal is to back the PM in his approach which has, at last, got the EU to move.
"If Parliament erects a roadblock in the Prime Minister’s way this week then the incentive for EU leaders to move further will be compromised. If we vote once again for indecision and indefinite delay, EU leaders will conclude they can sit tight and wait it out. The chances of securing changes, and a deal which can pass the Commons, will diminish."
The warning from the EU chief comes as the government prepares to launch its largest information campaign aimed at helping the country for a no-deal exit.
Set to begin on Sunday, the "Get Ready for Brexit" campaign will provide "step-by-step" tools for indivuals and businesses to prepare ahead of the Hallowe'en exit date.
Speaking ahead of the launch, which will included a raft of new radio and TV ads, Mr Gove added: "Leaving the EU, like moving house, takes work, application, investment and an adjustment to new circumstances to get right.
"But the reason we move house is to embrace new opportunities, live the life we choose and have more control over our future.
"The British people voted three years ago to make the move out of the EU and into the world. It's time now to deliver."