Michel Barnier has told European Union diplomats that a disagreement over post-Brexit fishing rights is now the only major stumbling block to agreeing a trade deal with the United Kingdom, it was claimed today.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament on Wednesday he believes that despite the difficulties, an agreement is within reach if both sides are ready to work in a constructive manner with the aim of compromise.
However, Number 10 also warned "it takes two to reach an agreement" and it is "entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed".
Speaking to Sky News, British policing minister Kit Malthouse said he had his "fingers crossed" that the new urgency injected into the fraught talks would pay off.
Michel Barnier has opened the door for the United Kingdom to come back to negotiations.
"It's in the nature of a negotiation that these things become tense, particularly towards the end when you're facing a deadline".
The stalled talks on the Brexit trade deal were among the subjects discussed in a phone call between Johnson and Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday.
The negotiations would be on the basis of legal texts, a key demand of the United Kingdom, "across all negotiating tables concurrently".
The key issues of contention remain fishing rights, the governance of any deal and the "level playing field" aimed at preventing unfair competition, which includes state subsidies.
Any deal will need parliamentary ratification on both sides before the end of the year, increasing the pressure on the negotiators to craft a legally binding text in the days ahead.
The statement also said the United Kingdom government still wanted a deal for when a post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31, but hinted it would walk away from the negotiations.
Anxiety has been mounting about the likely repercussions of that, with European fishermen notably warning they face ruin if deprived of access to Britain's rich waters.
On the United Kingdom side, businesses complain the government is failing to prepare on an array of fronts.
A joint statement released yesterday evening effectively removed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's threat to completely end talks and prepare Britain for a no-deal year-end result.
A Number 10 spokesman said: "We welcome the fact that Mr Barnier acknowledged both points this morning, and additionally that movement would be needed from both sides in the talks if agreement was to be reached".