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New Brexit deal by deadline ‘very difficult but possible’ – Barnier

The EU's chief negotiator has said it is "very difficult but possible" to strike a Brexit deal before next week's deadline.

Michel Barnier laid down the warning after a nearly identical message from Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Both men are preparing for high-level talks this week: Mr Barnier with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, and Mr Varadkar with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as the clock ticks down to 31 October.

Image: Leo Varadkar will meet the PM on Thursday

Home Secretary Priti Patel has insisted "nothing is over yet" and negotiations are about to enter an "important phase".

But one EU official said "no bold new offer is coming from our side".

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It comes after EU Parliament President David Sassoli told Sky News on Tuesday that Mr Johnson should feel "responsibility" for the increasing possibility of no-deal.

Donald Tusk, the EU Council's President, warned that "what's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game".

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LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Storm clouds pass over the Houses of Parliament at sunset on April 2, 2019 in London, England. The current deadline which the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union is April 12, 2019. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Image: Parliament will be hold a special sitting on Saturday 19 October

All eyes are on the showdown all 28 EU leaders will face at next week's summit – the last before the deadline for Mr Johnson to get a deal or ask for a delay.

Ireland has played down chances of a breakthrough, with Mr Varadkar admitting after a phone call with Mr Johnson on Tuesday that he would not accept a deal at "any cost".

The prime minister insists the country will leave the European Union on October 31.
PM: We will respect the law and leave on October 31

"There are some fundamental objectives that haven't changed for the past three years and we need them guaranteed," he told RTE news.

"I think it is going to be very difficult to secure an agreement by next week, quite frankly.

"Essentially what the UK has done is repudiate the deal that we negotiated in good faith with prime minister [Theresa] May's government over two years and sort of put half of that now back on the table and are saying: 'That's a concession'.

"And of course it isn't really."

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Mr Sassoli tried to pile the pressure on Mr Johnson on a trip to Downing Street on Tuesday, telling Sky News: "I believe that he, like everyone, must feel this as an important moment in the history of the European Union and the history of the relationship between our countries."

Boris Johnson meets with European Parliament President David Sassoli, at Downing Street
Image: European Parliament President David Sassoli told Mr Johnson to feel 'responsibility'

According to a Number 10 spokesperson, Mr Johnson told him he still preferred a deal to no-deal.

They added: "The prime minister set out how there is little time remaining to negotiate a new agreement, and so we need to move quickly and work together to agree a deal.

"He reiterated that if we did not reach an agreement then the UK will leave without a deal on 31 October."

It comes after Downing Street claimed German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Mr Johnson that a Brexit deal was "overwhelmingly unlikely".

EU and UK Brexit flags
Image: The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October

The prime minister spoke with Mrs Merkel for 30 minutes on Tuesday, with Mr Johnson stressing that Brexit negotiations in Brussels "are close to breaking down", Number 10 said.

An EU-UK agreement is "essentially impossible not just now but ever" following the "clarifying" phone call, a Downing Street source added.

Berlin has not given its own account of the call.

 German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Image: Brexit talks were said to be 'close to breaking down' after the phone call with Ms Merkel

The government last week unveiled its proposals for a renegotiated Brexit deal.

But Mr Johnson is compelled by the so-called "Benn Act" to ask the EU for another delay to avoid no-deal if one is not agreed by 19 October.

The government is planning to hold a historic sitting of parliament by calling MPs to Westminster on that day, which falls on a Saturday.

It will be the first time MPs have sat on a Saturday since the Falkland Islands invasions.

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