In Brief

Brexit: Michel Barnier says deal ‘90% done’

EU chief negotiator insists securing an agreement is ‘possible’ - but warns that Irish border may still prove fatal stumbling block

The European Union’s chief negotiator has announced that a Brexit deal with the United Kingdom is “90%” agreed but warned that negotiations might still be scuppered by the ongoing debate over the Irish border.

Speaking to radio channel France Inter on Friday morning, Michel Barnier said he was “still not sure” that an agreement will be reached before Britain leaves the European Union, adding that the challenge was “possible but difficult”.

Referring to the Irish border question, he said: “From the beginning of the mandate that was given to me, we always said that it was an issue that needed to be resolved.” Barnier emphasised the “unanimity on the part of the EU” that there should be no closed border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

On Thursday British Prime Minister Theresa May and other EU leaders voiced renewed confidence that they could secure a Brexit deal, “yet the two sides remain at odds over how to deal with their only land border”, reports Reuters.

And while Barnier insists most of the other elements of Brexit have been agreed, some commentators fear a deal may never be sealed.

“Bless him, trying to pour oil on May’s troubled waters,” says ForexLive’s Giles Coghlan. “The problem is that the remaining 10% (the N.Irish border issue etc), is an absolute pain to solve. It’s like a political Rubix cube that may not be solvable.”

May has signalled that she would consider extending the Brexit transition period “for a matter of months” after Britain leaves the EU in March, to iron out remaining issues. However,Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, has “poured cold water on the prime minister’s plan”, warning that “an extension alone does not solve the problems”,  The Daily Mirror reports.

“There is no reasonable solution yet over a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Roth said.

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