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EU can pull off 'impossible' Brexit compromise: ex-chief
[LONDON] Britain and the EU should be able to reach an unlikely compromise deal on Brexit, former European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Tuesday, citing past last-gasp breakthroughs.
The former Portuguese prime minister said European Union leaders had a remarkable capacity for pulling off agreements that seemed impossible.
"We are now in what seems a dead end in the negotiations," Mr Barroso told a Euronews Brexit conference in London.
"It is possible, with some creativity and imagination to find some kind of compromise.
"There is still some room for some negotiation."
Citing crises such as the Greek financial collapse, he said: "The European Commission has a remarkable capacity to find compromises that seem impossible until they are done."
He said Brussels would "naturally agree" if Britain asked for an extension to its scheduled March 29 departure date.
"Everybody needs to move a little," said Mr Barroso, now a non-executive chairman at Goldman Sachs investment bank.
"Europe should make an effort to accomodate some of the concerns."
Kwasi Kwarteng, a junior minister in the Brexit department, said the government was not looking at extending the departure date and was confident of striking a withdrawal agreement.
Prime Minister Theresa May sealed a Brexit deal with Brussels but British MPs overwhelmingly rejected it last month, with Conservative rebels concerned about the Irish border backstop proposals.
The backstop is a clause in the withdrawal arrangement that keeps Britain in the EU customs union until a way is found to ensure there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
"We're trying to get a concession, a movement, on the backstop. We understand that tackling this issue is a challenge but it is not insurmountable," said Kwarteng.
"We can, with enough flexibility and imagination, reach a deal," he said.
Meanwhile Brexit spearhead Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, said Britain should leave on time on World Trade Organization rules without an agreement with the European Union.
"There is a consensus in this country of just get on with it. Leave on WTO rules at 11.00pm on March 29. That is what we should do. It is the only way we can now deliver the Brexit people clearly voted for," he said.
"I suspect they're going to kick the can down the road, get an extension.
"If we extend for a year or two, then I think we'll see far bigger convulsions in British politics, far bigger earthquakes in our main parties than we even saw in the referendum."