Speaking on a visit to the United States, Michel Barnier said he was determined to negotiate the remaining 20 per cent of the deal, with the Brussels deadline for an agreement just around three months away.
“After 12 months of negotiations we have agreed on 80 per cent of the negotiations,” he told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“We are not so far from the final agreement, 20 per cent. I don’t want to put myself in the situation where we fail. But to be clear, we are prepared on the European side [for] many options, including the no deal.”
Mr Barnier said he was looking forward to “constructive discussion” with the UK, after his British counterpart David Davis resigned in protest of the PM’s plans to tie Britain to an EU regulations rulebook.
The EU official added that “time is short” to close a deal and declined to comment on the resignations, saying he did not “want to make any comment on domestic and national policy in the UK”.
The approach contrasts that of Mr Barnier’s boss, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who on Monday responded sarcastically to the idea that Ms May’s Cabinet may have finally reached a position unity.
But speaking at the think tank, Mr Barnier reiterated his early warnings that Britain could not secure a better deal than EU membership, stating: “It will be clear, crystal clear at the end of this negotiation that the best situation, the best relationship with the EU, will be to remain a member.”
He added: “No deal is the worst solution for everybody. It would be a huge economic problem for the UK and also for the EU. I’m not working for that deal, I’m working for a deal.”
The European Commission has said it will wait for the specifics in the British government’s forthcoming Brexit white paper before commenting on Ms May’s new proposals for the future relationship.
Mr Barnier has said he welcomes the fact the UK Cabinet has met and agreed a position – a year and a half into Article 50 talks. But the EU has previously strongly indicated that it would not accept proposals of the type Ms May appears to be considering, regarding them as “cherrypicking” and trying to have “cake” and eat it with the benefits of the single market but fewer obligations than member states.
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