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EU officials are preparing the groundwork for a meeting between Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and the Prime Minister if progress is made during next week’s formal round of post-Brexit talks. And he could even be invited to a summit of EU leaders to help get negotiations over the line. But Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, has told the EU’s Michel Barnier must be more realistic for a deal to be done.
With hopes for a deal growing in Brussels, the bloc is planning how to clinch an agreement before Mr Johnson’s October 15 deadline – when EU leaders are set to meet in the Belgian capital to discuss Brexit.
EU diplomats said Lord Frost and Mr Barnier’s meetings next week will be “pivotal” if a deal is to be reached before the cut-off point.
They are cautiously optimistic an agreement is possible and were buoyed by reports Downing Street was still committed to the process.
The Prime Minister is set to speak to fellow leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel on the phone in the next fortnight.
But a senior European diplomatic source insisted it would be Mrs von der Leyen who would work on any high-level bargaining to ensure Britain quits the bloc’s single market and customs union with a free-trade agreement.
“These talks have to be a bit more than ‘Believe me I really want a deal’, they must now indicate ways on how to possibly land because we’re running out of time.”
Another source claimed the Prime Minister could also be invited for talks with other EU leaders in the “margins” of their summit.
It is understood the political intervention will be used to end the deadlock on future access to Britain’s fishing grounds for EU boats.
No 10 is confident a deal can be done if Brussels climbs down from its demands for a regulatory level playing field and the same level of access to Britain’s coastal waters.
A UK Government official said: “We are now in the final period of negotiations. There remains a lot of work to do and either outcome is still possible.
“In particular, the differences on fisheries and the level playing field remain significant.
“If the gaps in these areas are to be bridged, the EU’s more constructive attitude will need to be translated into more realistic policy positions in the days to come.”
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Two major scraps over plans to ditch EU rules relating to Northern Ireland and a food blockade on the province have been defused.
But European Council President Charles Michel risked inflaming the tensions again with a thinly veiled attack on Downing Street.
In reference to the Internal Market Bill, the top eurocrat said: “Respect for treaties, a basic principle of international law, comes to be considered optional even by those who, until recently, were its historical guarantors.”
“All this is in the name of partisan interests,” he added.
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But in a boost for Britain’s split from the bloc, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed the decision as a sign of the country’s “greatness”.
He said: “Brexit is a brave decision of the British people about their own lives…we consider it as evidence of the greatness of the British.”
After insisting Hungary would not follow suit, he blamed former Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for the historic referendum result.
“I think Brexit was mainly a mistake of the European Union,” Mr Orban said.
“We made mistakes, terrible mistakes.”
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