August 31, 2017 / 5:48 PM / a year ago

France's Macron says Barnier only negotiator on Brexit

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed on Thursday his support to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier as the only point of contact for Brexit negotiations, dismissing talk in the British press that Paris was at odds with him.

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier holds a joint news conference with Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (unseen) marking the end of the third formal negotiation session in Brussels, Belgium August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

“I want to be very clear and reiterate our willingness of having only one negotiator and only one mandate,” Macron said in a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

“The only negotiator is Michel Barnier and I would like to clear up ambiguities regarding false information that were spread,” he added.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph daily said earlier this week that France and other EU nations had signalled they were willing to begin Brexit trade talks as early as October and were at odds with Barnier.

The report was immediately denied by the president’s office, which called it “groundless”, while a source close to Macron told Reuters there was “nothing true in this”.

“It is only once Mr Barnier will acknowledge sufficient progress has been made that we will be able to work on the next steps,” Macron said on Thursday.

With little more than a year left to agree the withdrawal terms and transitional arrangements to avoid disruption to lives and business across the continent when Britain leaves in March 2019, both sides hope an EU summit on Oct. 19-20 can agree that “sufficient progress” has been made to launch free trade talks.

In the news conference, the Dutch prime minister said he was concerned about the pace of Brexit negotiations.

“In October, the European Council will establish whether sufficient progress has indeed been made and to be honest at present I don’t believe this is the case and this is a pity,” Rutte said.

“We both believe that more urgency is needed so I call here on the UK government to engage more strongly in order to achieve progress on these key issues,” he added.

Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by John Irish

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