MICHEL Barnier has kept hopes of a Brexit deal alive, describing his two-hour meeting with the UK Brexit Secretary as “constructive”.  

However the EU’s chief negotiator also stressed the need for patience, suggesting the two sides are still a long way from agreeing a deal before next week’s EU summit.

Speaking to the media after his meeting in Brussels with Stephen Barclay, Mr Barnier said: “We had a constructive meeting with Steve Barclay and the British team and now I’m going to debrief the 27 ambassadors and the Brexit steering group of the parliament.

“I’ve already said that Brexit is like climbing a mountain: we need vigilance, determination and patience.”

A UK Government  spokesman said: “Steve Barclay had a constructive meeting with Michel Barnier this morning. Michel Barnier will brief ambassadors from the EU27 this afternoon.”

The positive language follows an unexpectedly upbeat assessment of the situation from the Taoiseach after his meeting with Boris Johnson on Thursday.

After referring to his “grave difficulty” with the UK’s proposed alternative to the Irish backstop earlier in the week, Leo Varadkar said he and Mr Johnson could see a pathway to a deal.

However he has refused to say what has changed.

“I think at this stage probably the less said the better,” he said in Dublin today.

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EU Council president Donald Tusk also sounded a muted note of optimism today.

He said:““Prime Minister Johnson promised the EU to come forward with a solution that would work for all. 

““A solution that would not only satisfy the hardcore Brexiters but also solve our well-known and legitimate objectives: to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, to protect the Good Friday agreement, and ensure the integrity of the single market.

“Unfortunately we are still in a situation in which the UK has not come forward with a workable realistic proposal.”

He said he had warned the PM a week ago that “if there were no such proposals by today I would announce publicly that there are no more chances – because of objective reasons – for a deal for the incoming European council”.

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But he went on: “However, yesterday, when the Irish taoiseach and the UK prime minister met they both saw for the first time a pathway to a deal. I have received promising signals from the taoiseach that a deal is still possible.”

He said technical talks were taking place in Brussels on Friday.

“Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up, but even the slightest chance must be used. A no-deal Brexit will never be the choice of the EU.”

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva added: "What I can say from our side is that Michel Barnier had a constructive meeting this morning with Steve Barclay and now he will debrief the EU27 ambassadors… and also inform the Brexit Steering Group accordingly.

She added: “We are working towards a deal .. If there is a will, there is a way.”