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The German Chancellor insisted the bloc would have to compromise in the coming weeks if there is to be a successful conclusion in the wrangling over a post-Brexit pact. Her comments were echoed by Europe minister Michael Roth, who insisted Brussels would have to move away from its hardline demands for access to British waters. France is currently pushing for Michel Barnier not to water down the EU’s fisheries position, which has been branded “unrealistic” by Downing Street.
President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to vote down any agreement unless his fishermen maintain access to British fishing grounds.
Addressing the EU’s Committee of the Regions, Mrs Merkel said: “We want an agreement. That would be a good thing – and particularly urgent from the Irish perspective. We’re not going to leave Ireland on its own, but rather continue to stand together in these withdrawal talks. But we also have to take into account the reality: an agreement has to be in the interests of both parties, in British interests as well as the interests of the 27-member European Union.”
And after a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg, Mr Roth told a news conference: “The negotiations are now at a very critical stage and we’re under very serious time pressure. We’ll see in the next few days whether a positive outcome can be achieved or whether we have to intensify our preparations for a scenario without an agreement.
“Let me be clear, this is a message to our British friends, no one should play down the risks of a no deal. This would be very bad news for the EU and also for the UK in the midst of the most serious economic downturn for decades we’d inflict on our citizens yet another serious economic setback.”
Asked whether the EU’s demands are unrealistic, he added: “In a compromise we have to move towards each other’s position.”
Berlin’s intervention comes as Brexit talks are expected to miss Boris Johnson’s October 15 deadline.
Mr Barnier said: “The EU will continue to work for a fair deal in the coming days and weeks.”
After a private meeting with Mr Barnier in Luxembourg, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said: “There are a number of weeks left in this negotiation, not a number of days.
“I don’t see that there will be any major breakthrough this week.”
The Prime Minister has claimed Britons should have “no fear” about leaving the EU without an agreement.
He told Cabinet ministers that an agreement can still be done as the wrangle hits a “crucial stage.”
But warned he could yet walk away unless the EU drops its hardline demands for unchanged fishing quotas.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “The PM said Lord Frost is currently in Brussels seeking to find a way through, and he believed there is still a deal to be done.
“The PM reiterated that, while we want a deal on the right terms, if we can’t get there we are ready and willing to move forward with an Australian-style outcome, which holds no fear.”
And a UK Government sourced blamed Mr Barnier for the lack of progress in recent talks.
The source said: “The EU have been using the old playbook in which they thought running down the clock would work against the UK.
“They have assumed that the UK would be more willing to compromise the longer the process ran, but in fact all these tactics have achieved is to get us to the middle of October with lots of work that could have been done left undone.
“This is all the more frustrating because it is clear that we have come a long way since the beginning of the year.
“We have approached the negotiations constructively and reasonably but time is now extraordinarily short. We need the EU to urgently up the pace and inject some creativity.”
Mr Johnson will hold talks with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tomorrow ahead of a crunch summit of EU leaders.
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