The European Union and Britain will reach a deal on Brexit in November if they do not do so this month, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told Austrian newspapers.
Juncker, whose optimism was echoed on Saturday by European Council President Donald Tusk, said that the potential for a rapprochement had grown in recent days, confirming what diplomatic sources have told Reuters.
EU Brexit negotiators believe a deal with Britain on leaving the bloc is "very close," the sources said, in a sign a compromise on a major sticking point - the future Irish border - might be in the making.
"We are not there yet. But our will to reach an understanding with the British government is unbroken," Juncker was quoted as saying by Der Standard and Kurier and Der Falter.
EU Brexit negotiators told ambassadors of the 27 states remaining in the bloc on Friday that there was no breakthrough on the Irish issue and much would depend on what the British bring to Brussels next week.
Britain is due to leave the EU in March, but talks on managing the unprecedented split have been stalled over differences on how to avoid border checks between EU-member Ireland and Britain's province of Northern Ireland.
"We have to get away from this no-deal scenario. It wouldn’t be good for Britain or for the rest of the (European) Union," Juncker was quoted as saying.
Britain's Brexit ministry said on Friday that the country's integrity would be preserved as part of any deal and that there would be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the province's executive agree.
"We will continue to work at pace to conclude these negotiations in the autumn," a British government spokesperson said on Saturday.
Britain and the EU are trying to push for the divorce deal, as well as an agreement on post-Brexit relations, in time for two leaders' summits scheduled for Oct. 17-18 and Nov. 17-18.
"My assumption is that we will reach an accord which will achieve the conditions of the withdrawal treaty," Juncker said, adding that it was not possible to predict whether there will be a conclusion to the Brexit negotiations in October.
"If not, then we will do it in November."
Tusk also said it was possible to agree a deal with Britain on leaving the European Union by the end of 2018.
"I have hope close to certainty that we will manage to reach an agreement both on exit and on best possible future relations ... I hope that it will be possible to avoid major losses on both sides," he said on the sidelines of a conference in Krakow, Poland.
"We will try for it in October ... and I think there is a chance to have an accord by the end of the year," he added.
Juncker told the Austrian papers that a political declaration on future relations between Britain and its former European partners was needed to accompany the Brexit deal.
"You can't absolutely keep separate the withdrawal treaty and the declaration of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe," he said. (Reuters)