EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier remains available for talks around the clock, the European Commission has confirmed despite claiming the deal on offer cannot be changed.
Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted that the divorce package signed-off on Sunday is the “only deal possible” in a bid to deter British MPs from voting it down.
“Those who think that by rejecting the deal they will have a better deal will be disappointed,” Juncker warned. But the commission’s chief spokesperson said on Monday that Barnier’s door is still open.
Asked by Yahoo Finance UK whether their negotiator is still available for talks, the spokesperson said: “Michel Barnier and his team will of course be around for as long as the Article 50 process is ongoing and of course available 24/7 as always so far.”
In a bid to show that the commission is concentrating on the deal signed-off on Sunday, he also stressed that Barnier’s team have “important tasks ahead preparing both the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the organisation work in order for the EU to begin negotiation on the future relationship.”
The commission “will now wait for the meaningful vote in the House of Commons,” the spokesperson added.
Confirmation that Barnier is available for further talks has been seized on by opponents of Theresa May’s deal as proof that it can be renegotiated.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: “A better deal could have been negotiated if the prime minister had started with different priorities. These comments are an important reminder that if the deal is voted down by parliament then that is not the end of the debate.
“These comments are an important reminder that if the deal is voted down by parliament then that is not the end of the debate. Both the EU and the UK will have to work together to avoid a no-deal scenario.”
MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is leading Conservative rebels against the deal, told Yahoo Finance UK that it “rather undermines the prime minister’s claim that no other deal is possible.”
And Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman said: “The EU are realists, they follow the UK news very closely, and they know the political situation is very bad for May.
“They would be hit hard by £13bn-a-year of tariffs on the massive amount of goods they sell the UK, from German cars to Spanish fruit and vegetables, if there was a no-deal situation.
“So it does not surprise me that they stand ready to rescue the deal with changes, such as removing the backstop. They have the most to lose.”
It’s the second time in as many days that EU figures have hinted that the deal could be changed if it’s voted down by MPs next month.
Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė said there could be a second referendum, general election or a re-opening of negotiations if the deal is voted down.
“Everything could happen,” she admitted, adding only: “We would like to see everything settled as soon as possible.”
Barnier is due to address MEPs behind closed doors in Brussels on Tuesday before continuing his tour of European capitals with a visit to Rome on Wednesday.