A BREXIT deal could be thrashed out within six to eight weeks, Michel Barnier has claimed.
It will be possible for both sides to agree on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal by November, the EU’s chief negotiator said.
The Frenchman warned only days ago that parts of Theresa May’s Chequers plan for Brexit were ‘insane’.
But Europe’s national leaders are thought to be pushing for him to be more flexible in order to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ departure.
The pound rose to a six-week high as he said yesterday a deal could be done in time for both sides to ratify it by March — two years after the prime minister triggered the withdrawal process.
‘The treaty is clear, we have two years to reach an agreement before Britain leaves in March 2019,’ Mr Barnier said.
‘That means that taking into account the time necessary for the ratification process in the House of Commons on one side, the European parliament and the council on the other side, we must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it is possible.’
Asked about claims that he told a group of UK MPs the Chequers proposals were dead, Mr Barnier added: ‘I never said that, I don’t think that. It is not my feeling.’
The comments suggesting that Chequers has a chance were a welcome boost for Mrs May, who faces the threat of a leadership challenge from Boris Johnson.
The former foreign secretary, who says her Brexit strategy will be a ‘suicide vest’ around Britain, could win backing from dozens of Tories who also oppose it.
But he was dealt a blow as claims surfaced that up to 12 MPs would resign the Tory whip rather than serve under him, leaving him with no majority in parliament.
The 54-year-old enraged some of his Tory colleagues by using the ‘suicide vest’ phrase.
And he faces embarrassing claims that a string of up to ten affairs prompted wife Marina Wheeler’s decision to divorce him.
Ms Wheeler, also 54, will accuse him of adultery during the divorce proceedings, it has emerged.
She was reportedly enraged after reading texts he exchanged with former Tory press officer Carrie Symonds, 30.
The comments from Mr Barnier seemed to lend weight to reports a ‘Save Theresa’ operation will be launched at an EU summit next week in Salzburg, Austria.
Leaders could agree to issue the negotiator with new guidance, giving him greater leeway to reach a compromise with Mrs May, the Financial Times reported.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker claimed up to 80 Tories could vote ‘no’ if a Chequers-style deal to ensure ongoing close links is put before Parliament.
But No.10 said Mr Baker and hard Brexiteer colleagues in the European Research Group had failed to come up with credible alternatives to Mrs May’s plan.