The EU’s chief negotiatior has offered to “intensify” post-Brexit trade discussions – based on legal texts – after the talks were left teetering on the brink of collapse.
Michel Barnier has held a call with his UK counterpart Lord Frost after being told not to bother travelling to London for face-to-face talks.
This came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the EU had “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” following a bust-up after last week’s EU summit.
But Mr Barnier appeared to reach across the divide between the two sides during his call with Lord Frost on Monday afternoon.
“I confirmed that the EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts,” he posted on Twitter after the pair’s conversation.
“We now wait for the UK’s reaction.”
His tweet was posted at the same time as senior cabinet minister Michael Gove set out the UK’s conditions for the resumption of formal talks.
Mr Gove had told the House of Commons that the EU had “in effect ended the trade negotiations” with their conclusions from their Brussels summit last week.
He said that EU leaders were “not forthcoming” in attempts to intensify talks, adding: “The EU was only willing to conduct negotiations on fewer than half the days available and would not engage on all of the outstanding issues.
“Moreover, the EU refused to discuss legal texts in any area as it has done since the summer.
“Indeed it’s almost incredible to our negotiators we have reached this point in the negotiations without any common legal texts of any kind.”
But, having been informed of Mr Barnier’s tweet as he spoke to to MPs, Mr Gove welcomed a “constructive move on the part of the EU”.
He added: “I now believe it is the case that Michel Barnier has agreed to the intensification of talks and also to working on legal texts.
“I think a reflection of the strength and resolution our prime minister showed.”
Analysis – Has the UK’s tough talk shifted the dial?
By Kate McCann, political correspondent
Just as Michael Gove got to his feet in the House of Commons to bemoan the EU’s refusal to intensify trade talks, Michel Barnier tweeted to say his side is prepared to do exactly that.
“The EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts. We now wait for the UK’s reaction”, he posted.
This is quite a shift and timed for maximum impact.
The UK has taken a tough position, refusing to hold face-to-face talks this week without a promise that the EU is willing to work through the night to resolve outstanding issues on fishing and state aid.
Such a statement from Mr Barnier could well spell the resumption of talks.
Both sides want a deal but something had to shift the deadlock, could it be that Boris Johnson’s decision to talk tough has forced some movement, however small?
The next few days will be crucial to see whether both sides are posturing or whether an agreement can be reached.
During the statement Theresa May warned again that without a deal there will be major damage to the UK’s security regime.
Mr Gove said the UK would not accept major compromises in order to agree on security, prompting the former prime minister to screw up her face and mouth “what” from the backbench.
Scepticism remains about the government’s tactics.
There are many who believe the UK is playing a dangerous game in these final weeks in a bid to win concessions from the EU, talking tough despite wanting a deal.
But if those tactics shift the dial enough to secure a fresh round of more intensive talks it may well be worth the risk.
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