'Decisive' Brexit progress needed before next week's summit, says Michel Barnier

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prior to a weekly meeting at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels 
Andrew Woodcock, Press Association

"Decisive" progress on Brexit is needed before next week's crunch European Council summit in Brussels, the EU's chief negotiator has warned.

Michel Barnier briefed top EU officials behind closed doors at a regular meeting of the College of Commissioners, which also heard European Commission secretary-general Martin Selmayr warn of the need to be prepared for "all outcomes" from Brexit.

The meeting took place as Theresa May prepared to face the House of Commons for the first time since last month's Salzburg summit, when EU leaders told her that her Chequers blueprint for Brexit would not work.

Mrs May will appear at the despatch box at Prime Minister's questions amid growing pressure from Brexit-backing Tories to drop the plan agreed by the Cabinet at her country residence in July and instead seek a Canada-style free trade deal.

The October 18 summit was initially framed as the deadline for agreement on the terms of UK withdrawal from the EU, as well as the publication of a political declaration on future relations in areas like trade and security.

But with both sides confirming that differences remain on issues like the status of the Irish border, expectations are growing that the final moment of decision will be put back to a special summit in November.

Following the College meeting, two commissioners stressed the importance of continued UK/EU co-operation on security after Brexit.

Security Commissioner Julian King said: "There are some issues that will need to be addressed in the context of a future partnership, including on security. There is a strong shared self-interest in finding a way of maintaining co-operation on security, if that proves to be possible."

And Home Affairs Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos said: "I don't know what will be the outcome of these negotiations. Let's hope that we are going to have a positive end.

"But as far as security is concerned, it is very important in order to ensure the security of our citizens and safety for our countries, to keep working together in the future."

Reports had suggested that Mr Barnier would present a paper setting out new EU proposals at today's meeting, but it is thought that this has been delayed until closer to the summit date.

The British government is also due to publish its own revised proposals for the Irish border, but Downing Street has said only that these will appear "in due course".

Speaking after Mr Barnier's briefing, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters: "He recalled that decisive progress must be made in time for the October European Council next week.

"Negotiations at technical level will continue this week."

Mr Selmayr provided an update on preparations for Brexit, and reminded commissioners of "the importance for all stakeholders to prepare for all outcomes at all levels", said Mr Schinas.

His comments came after it emerged that the UK Government is recruiting a team of civil emergency workers earning up to £50,000 to help the country cope with any disruption caused by Brexit.

Cabinet minister Matt Hancock called for unity behind Mrs May as he predicted that negotiations with the EU would run until the "last minute".

Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think that the Prime Minister is doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances and I think that she has got to make the judgments about how we land a good deal, so I'm backing the Prime Minister to get a good deal and I think the whole nation should get behind her."

Former Brexit secretary David Davis warned on Tuesday of "dire" consequences for Conservatives at the next general election if the Government sticks to its negotiating stance on EU withdrawal.

In a letter to fellow Tory MPs, he said a deal based on Mrs May's Chequers plan would deliver "none of the benefits of Brexit" and reduce the UK to being "a rule-taker from Brussels".

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, meanwhile, said differences remained between the UK and EU on the withdrawal agreement but insisted "we are closing in on workable solutions".

He told Tory Brexiteers that their calls for a Canada-style trade deal would be a "shortcut to no deal".

Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned of "carnage" if Britain crashed out of the EU but said he believed it was "unlikely" that would happen.

Mrs May told her Cabinet that Britain will not accept an EU withdrawal deal without a "precise" political declaration setting out how its requirements on trade and security will be delivered.

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