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EU's Barnier says he is not optimistic on Brexit deal by mid-October

FILE PHOTO: European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier leaves the European Commission headquarters to attend a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday expressed pessimism on the prospects of clinching a divorce deal with Britain ahead of its withdrawal from the bloc on Oct. 31.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to revise the terms that his predecessor Theresa May agreed with the EU but failed to pass at home. The European Union, however, said he has not made any meaningful proposals to win them over.

“I cannot objectively tell you whether the contacts we have with Mr Johnson’s government will lead to an agreement by mid-October,” Barnier told European Parliament leaders.

He said he had no reason to be optimistic and reiterated the bloc’s willingness to work constructively with London and to consider concrete and legally operational proposals that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.

He said the EU was ready to work with the British government towards a free trade agreement but warned against any attempt to row back on future competition rules agreed by Theresa May.

“It is clear that the level of ambition of a future free trade agreement will be defined by United Kingdom guarantees related to state aid, taxation or social and environmental standards given its economic size and proximity,” Barnier said.

Before the British parliament was suspended, opposition lawmakers and rebels from Johnson’s Conservative Party passed legislation that would make Johnson ask for a three-month extension to Britain’s EU membership if parliament has not either approved a deal by Oct. 19 or consented to leaving without one by then.

Barnier said the risk of a no deal Brexit would still remain even with an extension.

“At the same time, you will have understood, despite the vote of the law of extension, the risk of no deal has not been ruled out. A no deal will never be the choice of the Union. But we do not have the ability to avoid only this scenario,” he said.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Matthew Lewis