The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned David Frost that without a major negotiating shift by Downing Street within the next 48 hours he will pull out of the Brexit negotiations in London this weekend, pushing the talks into a fresh crisis.
In talks via videoconference on Tuesday, Barnier told his British counterpart that further negotiations would be pointless if the UK was not willing to compromise on the outstanding issues.
Should Barnier effectively walk out on the negotiations it would present the most dangerous moment yet for the troubled talks, with just 36 days to go before the end of the transition period.
While Brussels might hope such a move would put the UK prime minister under pressure to give Frost new negotiating instructions, it might also embolden those within the Tory party who believe no deal is the better outcome.
During a speech in the European parliament on Wednesday, the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU was willing to be “creative” to get a deal with the UK but admitted an agreement was in the balance with “very little time ahead of us”.
Physical talks are on hold after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus, but Barnier is expected to leave quarantine on Thursday evening. He is due to head to London on Friday for a last-ditch push for an agreement once he receives a negative coronavirus test.
“These are decisive days for negotiations with the United Kingdom,” Von der Leyen told MEPs. “But, frankly, I cannot tell you today if in the end, there will be a deal.”