The European Union will not abandon its founding principles in order to facilitate a Brexit deal with the UK, its chief negotiator has said.
Michel Barnier said it was possible for the UK and EU to find “common ground” and create “a partnership that has no precedent” after meeting with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab in Brussels.
But speaking to reporters alongside the Cabinet minister he said that relationship had to “respect the single market and the foundations of the European project”.
They announced the speed of negotiations is to increase ahead of a self-imposed deadline of October to hammer out a deal.
It comes amid raised fears a no-deal Brexit is becoming more likely as the deadline to agree a deal looms ever closer.
Mr Raab admitted there were still some “significant issues” to overcome, including their future trade relationship and the Northern Irish border.
Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint, hammered out at a tumultuous Chequers summit in July, called for a “facilitated customs arrangement” between the EU and Britain plus a “common rule book” for trade in goods, with both already ruled out by Brussels.
Asked by a reporter why the EU seemed unwilling to give ground on its principles in order to get a deal, Mr Barnier said: “Why would we?
“The UK is leaving the European Union, it is not the other way around.
“The UK is leaving and it is their choice and we respect that choice whilst regretting it. But the European Union is based on principles and values, on rules.
“It is a whole ecosystem which is integrated of rules and laws and standards, of supervision and of certification… which the UK knows very very well because we built it together, didn’t we?
“We have been building it over some 40 or so years together. So those principles will remain our principles because that is the way it is. They are the principles we have been working on and on which the single market is based.”
Mr Raab, who will return to Brussels for further talks with Mr Barnier next week, said: “There are still some significant issues to overcome – yes on Northern Ireland, I think we both recognise that – but also on the future relationship.
“It’s important to view the whole deal as a package. We agreed that we need to step up the intensity of the negotiations as we come into the final phase and we have agreed to meet regularly and resolve at the political level those outstanding issues that remain under technical consideration.”
Mr Barnier was optimistic a deal could be struck this year.
While he would guarantee it would be by the earmarked deadline of the October European Council, he said it would be around the “beginning of November, but not much later than that certainly”.
Earlier Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK has faced “bigger challenges” than Brexit in the past and will “survive” the process.
His comments came after a leaked letter from NHS Providers, which represents hospital and ambulance services, warned that hospitals face running out of medicines if a chaotic no-deal Brexit were to transpire.
Mr Hunt, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, admitted the chance of a no deal was “not negligible” and warned the consequences of an “acrimonious, messy divorce” would be “terrible for the EU project”.
But “whatever the outcome” of the negotiations, Mr Hunt said he was confident the UK could manage, adding: “We will find a way whatever the outcome to survive and prosper.”