The EU's chief negotiator for Brexit said he still hopes to be in London this week for talks on a future trade deal with the UK, even if negotiations are on hold due to UK calls for a "fundamental" change in approach.
Michel Barnier spoke in camera at a meeting with Members of the European Parliament after a phone call with British negotiator David Frost about the fact that the ball was before the UK court to decide whether to return to the negotiating table.
Participants in the Tuesday afternoon meeting said that Mr Barnier saw Thursday as the earliest opportunity for talks in London but that nothing was confirmed and that the fate of the talks would depend on the UK.
Mr Barnier and Mr Frost had what is known as a "constructive discussion" over the phone by British officials. However, the UK is still not ready to resume face-to-face talks, despite Brussels offering to step up negotiations on the basis of common legal texts.
People who were informed of Lord Frost and Mr Barnier's call on Tuesday afternoon said the conversation had resulted in a push by the British negotiator for further concessions, while the French insisted that the bloc's internal deliberations were over and it was time for Britain to decide whether to come back to the table.
Mr Barnier will give his assessment in a public address to the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, but told Lord Frost not to expect a change in position.
My message: We should make the most of the time left. Our door stays open
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that Brussels had "broken off" talks by taking unacceptable positions, such as suggesting that only Britain should shake things up. This was contradicted on the same day by leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted that both sides had to move, but Britain has stuck to its line since then.
After the last call between Mr Barnier and Lord Frost – the couple also spoke on Monday – the Frenchman wrote on Twitter: “My message: we should make the most of the remaining time. Our door stays open. “Privately, EU officials were frustrated that the negotiations were on hold.
Downing Street said Lord Frost and Mr. Barnier would "keep in touch".
Despite the apparent impasse, senior UK officials expect negotiations on a trade deal to resume at the end of the game later this week, provided the EU makes it clear that both sides will have to compromise to reach an agreement.
"There will only be a basis for resuming talks if the EU's approach changes radically and it is accepted that the movement must come from both the EU and the UK," said one.
London is waiting for Mr Barnier to clarify that the EU will justify the issue of access to UK fisheries, while details of the UK's new state aid system continue to hamper progress.
"We have a cool head and we are keeping an eye on a compromise agreement," said an EU official.
A senior British official said the negotiations were "in poor shape", citing a general lack of confidence on the British side that a deal was feasible.
Meanwhile, the House of Lords voted 395-169 on Tuesday in favor of a critical amendment to the government's controversial single market law, which ministers have admitted violating international law.
The amendment, backed by 39 Conservatives, said the legislation would "undermine the rule of law and damage the UK's image" by repealing the UK's withdrawal treaty with the EU that Mr Johnson agreed last year.
Proponents of the amendment included seven bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, former Tory leader Michael Howard, former Tory Chancellor Ken Clarke, and Richard Keen, who had resigned as advocate general for Scotland on the bill.
The pivotal moment in the House of Lords will come in late October and early November when peers could remove clauses from the bill that override the withdrawal treaty in relation to Northern Ireland.
Although the House of Commons would almost certainly vote to reinstate them, their peers are likely to prevent the law from being passed for some time in protest of what they see as an apparent violation of international law.
Mr Johnson will hope to make progress on talks with the EU on a trade deal before the parliamentary crisis hits, so that he can quietly drop the offensive clauses in a definitive deal with Brussels.
Additional reporting from Peter Foster in London