European Council President Donald Tusk said he would call a summit of European Union leaders in mid-November in a bid to finalise a Brexit deal with Britain.
Speaking ahead of a gathering of EU leaders in the Austrian city of Salzburg which will be attended by Theresa May, Mr Tusk said: “The Brexit negotiations are entering their decisive phase.
“Various scenarios are still possible today but I’d like to stress that some of Prime Minister May’s proposals from Chequers indicated positive evolution in the UK’s approach.”
Despite noting that the UK was prepared to work closely with the EU on security and foreign policy post-Brexit, Mr Tusk said there still need to be changes to Britain’s approach, particularly on the future of the Irish border and economic cooperation.
Proposals in these two areas “will need to be reworked and further negotiated,” Mr Tusk said, noting that while there was “more hope” there was “less and less time” to reach a deal.
Mrs May’s trip to Salzburg will be the first time EU leaders have met since she published her Chequers proposals in July.
The plan envisages Britain retaining common EU rules for goods, but not services.
It sparked the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson, and the PM is coming under increasing pressure from her backbenchers to “chuck Chequers”.
Mrs May is, so far, sticking to her guns, warning her party it is a straight choice between her deal or no deal.
And in apparent bid to smooth the road to an eventual deal, Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was prepared to put forward a new offer on the Irish border.
Mr Barnier said he wanted to “de-dramatise” the issue, suggesting the majority of checks on imports and exports could take place away from the border itself.
But the DUP, which props up the minority Conservative administration at Westminster, dismissed Mr Barnier’s proposals.
Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “So Michel Barnier says he can do different kinds of checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as if that makes it more palatable.
“The fundamental point is that internal UK checks are only needed if it is intended to separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
“Despite the talk of ‘improvements’ the backstop being insisted upon by the EU would mean a different regime for Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK
“It still means a border down the Irish Sea although with different kinds of checks.
“The fact is that both Theresa May and the Labour Party have said no British Prime Minister could accept such a concept.
“It is not just unionists who object.”
Labour’s Owen Smith, a former shadow Northern Ireland secretary who is backing the Best for Britain campaign for a second EU referendum, said the DUP’s riposte had “sunk Barnier’s improved offer on Northern Ireland before he has even floated it”.