The EU is prepared to change its Brexit position if Theresa May softens her negotiating red lines, Michel Barnier has said.
The offer from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator could be seen as a strategic olive branch coming just as the prime minister tries to strike a deal between the warring sides of her cabinet at Chequers.
“I am ready to adapt our offer should the UK red lines change,” Barnier said in a speech to the Institute of International and European Affairs in Brussels. “Our objective has always been to find an agreement with the UK, not against.”
He called on all sides to stop arguing over the Irish border, imploring everyone to “de-dramatise” the issue.
However, he said the EU would not shift its own red line on the single market, which he said was “not and never should be seen as a big supermarket; it is economic, cultural and social life, it should be developed in all its dimensions”.
He added: “The single market is our main economic public good. We will not damage it. We will not unravel what we achieved with the UK. We must find solutions that respect the integrity of the single market.”
This may douse any hopes that the prime minister could emerge from Chequers on Friday night with a package that simultaneously unites the cabinet and is acceptable to the EU, which has always said access to the single market is conditional on the UK accepting freedom of movement of people.
Hardline Brexiters were horrified to learn that May was preparing to soften her red lines by asking for access to the single market for goods, but not services, and will see Barnier’s comments as confirmation that the EU will not countenance a special compromise for Britain on immigration.