A GLIMMER of hope was raised of a possible Brexit deal after Michel Barnier received the green light from the 27 member states yesterday to go into intense negotiations with the UK this weekend.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator was given the go-ahead that so-called “tunnel” negotiations will proceed following a meeting he had with the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay in Brussels.

“Tunnel” negotiations are intense talks which are limited to the negotiators with minimal feedback externally in a bid to allow the talks proceed unhampered by leaks.

“It’s a tunnel with a very small light at the end of it,” one diplomat said yesterday, indicating there was not too much hope on the EU side that a deal could be sealed before the UK is due to leave the EU on October 31.

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A statement from the European Commission said: “The EU and the UK have agreed to intensify discussions over the coming days.

“The EU’s position remains the same: there must be a legally operative solution in the withdrawal agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, protects the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and safeguards the integrity of the single market.

“The commission will take stock with the European Parliament and member states again on Monday in view of preparing the General Affairs Council (Article 50) on Tuesday morning.”

Boris Johnson told reporters yesterday afternoon that he could see a pathway to a deal after his meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday “but that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal”.

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Asked what concessions he has offered the EU, Johnson said: “We are working very hard to get a deal but I want to stress that if we can’t get a deal, if we can’t get the right way forward for the whole of the UK, Northern Ireland included, then clearly that will mean that we have to come out on different terms, or have to come out without an agreement. I think the best thing we can do now is let our negotiators get on with it and do their work.”

There is speculation that the Conservative leader may be ready to agree to the original backstop proposed by EU which would see Northern Ireland remain in the single market and customs union. The proposal received support among political parties and business groups in Northern Ireland but was strongly opposed by the DUP who claimed it “put a border down the Irish Sea”.

Pressed on concessions and whether he can promise that Northern Ireland will come out of the EU customs union, Johnson did not rule out the move.

He said: “Well, I can certainly tell you that under no circumstances will we see anything that damages the ability of the whole of the United Kingdom to take full advantage of Brexit. I think that’s what people would expect and that’s what I think we can achieve. But the best thing now really would be for the negotiators to get on and do their job.”

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After leaving the Brussels meeting, Barnier commented: “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.

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

Any deal struck would have to be approved by MPs.