BRUSSELS — A flurry of talks between Britain and the European Union ended Sunday without a Brexit agreement, leaving the two sides three days to close a gap in their positions before a make-or-break summit.
An unscheduled, face-to-face meeting between EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and a hastily scheduled meeting of 27 EU ambassadors in Brussels, had sparked speculation that the long-awaited deal was imminent.
Barnier dashed those hopes Sunday evening, writing on Twitter: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open” in the divorce talks. The key stumbling block remains the need “to avoid a hard border” between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland after Brexit, he said.
The lack of advancement on the border issue increased the chances that the Brexit negotiations will fail to produce an agreement spelling out how the EU will interact with its former member and vice versa. EU officials have warned that real progress was needed before the summit starting Wednesday.
The British government said there were still “unresolved issues” but it remained committed to making progress at an EU summit starting Wednesday.
An EU official said no further negotiations were planned before the leaders of EU countries convene in Brussels. Both sides previously agreed that a special November meeting would be the deadline for reaching an agreement since Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29.
The EU and the U.K. are seeking an elusive compromise position on the difficult Irish border question ahead of the summit. The “Irish backstop” is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc.