THE European Union is prepared for Brexit talks with the UK collapsing, one of its most senior officials has said.

In an interview published in France, Michel Barnier, chief Brexit negotiator for the European Commission, signalled civil servants in Brussels had plans in place for discussions between the two sides breaking down.

Speaking about the prospect of a no-deal scenario, Barnier said he was not seeking such an outcome but preparations were being made for it.

“It’s a possibility” he told the newspaper Journal Du Dimanche. “Everyone needs to plan for it, member states and businesses alike. We too are making technical preparations for it.”

Barnier also repeated that the UK must make clear how much of a financial settlement it is willing to pay to leave the bloc.

At a press conference on Friday following round six of negotiations, he gave the UK a fortnight to “clarify” its offer of £20 billion.

Barnier has not publicly specified what sum he would agree to, but figures of between £60bn and £100bn have been suggested by experts as the amount the EU is expecting for the UK’s financial obligations to the bloc.

Some hardline Brexiteers do not want the UK to hand over any money. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in July that European leaders can “go whistle” if they expect Britain to pay any money to Brussels.

Barnier warned on Friday that a summit set for December 14-15 would be postponed if there was no more progress on the talks “within the next 14 working days”.

His comments came as Theresa May met business groups from across the continent in Downing Street yesterday to discuss a future trading relationship with the EU.

Business leaders have been lobbying for the UK Government to agree the terms of transition with the EU by Christmas, before companies make their financial plans for 2018.

May has said she expects an “implementation period” of about two years, but last month told MPs there would be no transitional deal unless the UK had agreed its future trade partnership with the EU.

Earlier yesterday Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said that “time is very short” ahead of the summit – so “it is understandable that chief negotiator Barnier is underlining how necessary immediate action and immediate proposals by Britain are”.

Meanwhile, a senior German politician also indicated he was concerned about Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. Reports yesterday said Thomas Steffen, a deputy finance minister, told an economic conference in Frankfurt that “we should all be prepared for the worst case actually happening in March 2019”.

He added: “And then we will see whether anyone in London or anywhere else can produce a different scenario. Today, I don’t see it.”

In the House of Lords yesterday a former Brexit minister said Barnier’s call for progress to be made on the divorce bill before a trade deal could be discussed was “entirely contradictory”.

Lord Bridges, who left the frontbench following the June election, said: “Would the minister agree that Monsieur Barnier’s position today seems entirely contradictory to the position he himself set out in the negotiating guidelines published in April, and I quote, ‘In accordance with the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, individual items cannot be settled separately’?”

Tory government minister Lord Bates emphasised to peers the government’s view that it was a “single negotiation”.

He said: “We want to see this very much a single negotiation. We want to have all the elements to it agreed, and of course an important part of that will be the financial settlement.”