Barnier hails 'step forward' in Brexit talks but warns of 'serious divergences' over Irish backstop

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator says 'more work is clearly needed' despite progress

Barnier hails 'step forward' in Brexit talks but warns of 'serious divergences' over Irish backstop

File photo of Michel Barnier speaking at a press conference at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Picture by: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator has hailed a 'step forward' in negotiations with the UK - but warned that 'serious divergences' remain over the Northern Ireland backstop proposals.

Negotiators on both sides have issued a joint statement on progress made so far.

It highlights agreements in a number of areas, such as VAT arrangements and issues around intellectual property.

On the subject of the Irish border, work is said to be ongoing - with both parties "committed to accelerating work on the outstanding areas".

However, Michel Barnier warned that 'a lot more work' needs to be done before the final Brexit deadline of October.

In a statement, he said: "Engagement by the UK on remaining issues such as the protection of personal data and geographical indications is to be welcomed.

"Serious divergences remain, however, on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. I would like to recall that the Withdrawal Agreement must contain a fully operational backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland."

Mr Barnier said he will present a 'state of play' of the negotiations to EU leaders when they gather in Brussels next week for a key summit.

The agreement on Brexit has to be reached before October, to allow for the EU, member states and the UK to pass necessary legislation ahead of the UK's planned exit on March 29th next year.

The EU has previously rejected significant parts of the British government’s proposed backstop solution for avoiding a return to a hard border in Ireland.

The UK's proposals would see a “temporary customs arrangement” put in place for the period after Britain leaves the bloc and before a new trade arrangement is put in place - put the EU opposes putting a time limit on any such agreement.