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EU's chief Brexit negotiator says deal possible by November

The European Union's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks at the Bled Strategic Forum in Bled, Slovenia, on Sept. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

BLED, Slovenia (AP) -- The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator was cautiously optimistic Monday about the prospects of a deal with Britain by early November, in comments that triggered a big rally in the value of the pound.

At a conference in the Alpine lake resort of Bled in northwestern Slovenia, Michel Barnier said a Brexit deal was "not far" and that some 80 percent of the withdrawal agreement had been agreed.

Though Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, an agreement will have to be reached months before hand in order to get the necessary ratifications though such places as the British Parliament and the European Parliament.

Being "realistic," Barnier said a Brexit deal can be reached within six or eight weeks and by early November.

"I think it's possible," Barnier said at a panel dubbed 'Bridging the Divide.'

His comments helped the pound push back above $1.30. In late afternoon trading, the pound was 0.9 percent higher at $1.3030.

"Clearly there is a feeling that a lot of Brexit pessimism and no deal risk has been priced in which is why we're in a state of such sensitivity to any reports that indicate a breakthrough will come," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at London-based financial trading firm OANDA.

Though Barnier sounded relatively optimistic about the prospects of a deal, he acknowledged that tough issues remain not least over the border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland. That's been one of the thorniest issues in the Brexit negotiations.

Barnier refused to comment on the divisions in the governing British Conservative Party over Brexit.

"This debate is very intense, it is very stimulating, but I don't want to be involved," he said.

A proposal hammered out by May's Cabinet in July at the prime minister's Chequers country retreat proposes keeping the U.K. aligned to EU regulations in return for free trade in goods. The plan has infuriated Brexit-backers in Britain who have insisted it is bad for the country.

Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has compared May's plan to putting the country's constitution in a "suicide vest" and handing the detonator to the EU.

"Brexit is a negative negotiation, unfortunately. There is no winner. It is a lose-lose game," Barnier insisted.

"There is no added value to Brexit."

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