In an upbeat speech Brussels’ chief negotiator said the two sides are “shoring up” a pact over the futures of European citizens living in the UK and British expats based on the continent.
He said yesterday the “moment of truth is approaching” in the tense divorce talks but expressed real “hope” that he and Brexit secretary David Davis will be able to get a deal across the line.
The EU has set Britain an “absolute deadline” of December 4 by which to table a new offer unlocking sufficient progress or leaders will not be able to trigger trade talks at next month’s summit.
But in a speech to the COSAC plenary of MEPs and national politicians in Estonia Mr Barnier also warned the UK that he will ferociously protect the Single Market once those discussions do begin.
He said: “I do hope in the next few days we will come up with a real agreement on principles. We need to have real sufficient progress in the three key areas where the UK’s decision has created a lot of uncertainty and fear even.
“We need to secure the rights of these citizens. We have done a lot but we need to ensure that we clearly secure their rights reciprocally and that’s why we need a role for the ECJ in that.
“That’s what we’re working on category by category, be they students, workers retired citizens, citizens with family rights, and we have almost finished shoring up all these rights with a very necessary legal basis.”
“I really hope that will be the point where we will see real sufficient progress on the conditions of our separation and that would allow me to recommend the opening of the next two phases of negotiations, first of all on the transition period and then on the future relationship.”
Mr Barnier said a breakthrough on the three main issues of the first phase – citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Ireland – was “the basis of the agreement we hope to obtain in the next few days”.
He told delegates that he his preference was “not no deal, nor a very bad deal” but rather a “new ambitious partnership” with Britain, before issuing a coded warning to Westminster that “agreement is between two parties, it takes two”.
The Frenchman said: “If everyone understands that the Single Market is not up for negotiation, and if we manage to find a way to come up with a level playing field with the UK, then we’ll be laying the foundation for a new ambitious partnership.
“Obviously the future of Europe is much more important than Brexit but in order to have a true, solid future for the EU we need to come up with a true partnership with the UK.”
However, Mr Barnier also had a blunt warning to some eurosceptics who are looking to pile up a bonfire of red tape after Brexit, saying European Parliaments will likely veto a UK-EU trade deal if they feel threatened.
He said: “We’re going to have to come up with a Free Trade Agreement with the UK. We’re going to have to manage divergence and we’re going to have to avoid the fact this divergence will become a tool for dumping for competition against our social rights, our environmental rights, our consumer rights or against a fiscal level playing field.
“This is a vital subject for us. It is linked into the ratification by all of [European] national parliaments. We do not accept the fact that the Single Market and the Customs Union that our laws be weakened as a result of the decision of the UK.
“The UK will lose out on the advantages of the Single Market, this is a certainty. There’s no punishment, many of us regret the decision of the UK to leave. We will not accept the watering down of the Single Market as a result of this.”