EU capital were informed this morning by the European Commission that the negotiator no longer has the scope to work on Boris Johnson’s proposals. Mr Barnier now must seek “room for manoeuvre” from leaders in order to kickstart formal negotiations with the UK Government. Diplomats were informed that tomorrow’s meeting between Mr Johnson and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar could provide the breakthrough required to push on with deal.
“Now is time for a political moment – whether it be between Boris Johnson, Leo Varadkar or Jean-Claude Juncker,” a European source told Express.co.uk.
“Barnier has said he will continue to assess the UK’s proposals to see how much room for manoeuvre will be needed.
“But for now there are still fundamental gaps that can’t be bridged under Barnier’s current mandate.”
After hours of negotiations this week in Brussels, the Prime Minister’s negotiator David Frost failed to convince Mr Barnier that the British customs plans are a viable proposition.
Under Mr Johnson’s proposal, Northern Ireland would remain aligned to the EU’s single market but leave the customs union with the rest of the UK.
Mr Frost set out a number of “clarifications” on customs checks could be carried out on away from the border after Brexit. But Mr Barnier decided there is still a “fundamental and significant gap” between the two positions.
Brussels continues to oppose the sweeping customs exemptions requested by the Government for small and medium businesses, which would see the firms unchecked.
EU diplomats have suggested that UK negotiators have continuously failed to understand why this is unacceptable to the bloc.
European sources don’t believe Mr Frost has the mandate to make sweeping changes to the British proposal.
But in a boost for the Prime Minister, it has emerged that EU capitals have “parked” talks on a consent mechanism that is designed to give the Northern Ireland a say on the implementation of the backstop.
An EU official revealed that neither Mr Barnier nor member states oppose restoring democracy to the controversial mechanism in future talks with the Government.
“You cannot untie consent and time limits,” the source said, hinting that any measure could include a final cut-off point.
Another source added: “Consent is ultimately a time-limit with a democratic disguise.”
Until now there have been no technical negotiations on the consent mechanism because Brussels has been careful not to “trash” an idea that will later be offered.
EU capitals have refused to hold formal talks on the possibility of a further Brexit extension until a request is sent by the UK Government.
Instead, the bloc remains focused on delivering a deal and insists it is still possible despite the crunch European leaders summit being just eight days away.
“We’re still a long way away from the European Council, it’s never felt so far away,” a source said.
“It’s definitely too early to tell what we’ll be discussing – an extension or a new deal?”