The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, signaled that a divorce deal with the U.K. could be reached during the week of Oct. 15 as he identified ways to avoid a hard customs border for Ireland, a major hurdle in the negotiations.
Barnier said the EU and the U.K. have agreed on 80% to 85% of a withdrawal deal but that some difficult issues remain, such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.
"An agreement is within reach for Oct. 17, next Wednesday," Barnier told the European Parliament of Enterprises in a speech, as quoted by Reuters. EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels that day.
With Britain leaving the EU single market and customs union, Barnier said customs, value-added tax and compliance checks must be carried out on traded goods between the bloc and the U.K.
"We have agreed with the U.K. that these checks cannot be performed at the border ... A crucial question is, therefore, where they will take place," he said.
"The EU proposes to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible," added Barnier, who also said that he is still open to the idea of having a customs union with the U.K.
For customs and VAT checks, the EU is proposing to use existing customs transit procedures, such as filling in customs declarations online and in advance for U.K. companies, according to Barnier.
On industrial goods, regulatory checks could be carried out by "market surveillance authorities," he said. Checks on all trade of live animals and animal-derived products, however, would still take place at the border, under the EU's proposal.