UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay travelled to Brussels on Friday, amid growing pessimism on the continent over whether a new withdrawal deal can be agreed.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told diplomats on Thursday that the UK’s proposed alternative to the Irish backstop was unworkable.
BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming described his briefing as “downbeat”.
Downing Street said “progress has been made” but there were still “significant obstacles” to reaching a deal. The BBC correspondent said European diplomats thought the chances of finalising a new Brexit deal by a crucial EU summit on 17 October were “dwindling”.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on October 31, although MPs have passed a law requiring Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek an extension to that deadline from the bloc if he is unable to pass a deal in Parliament, or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit, by October 19.
Mr Barclay and Mr Barnier discussed alternatives to the Irish backstop, which aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
The policy is unacceptable to many Conservative MPs, and Mr Johnson has insisted a revised Brexit deal must include “the abolition of the backstop”.
Ahead of Friday’s meeting, Mr Barnier said the UK government’s proposed solution to the backstop would put the single market at risk.
He said the UK’s ideas so far involved managing different rules for Customs and products on either side of the Irish border, rather than keeping them the same across the whole island.
The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, who met Mr Barnier on Thursday, said the UK’s proposals to resolve the Irish backstop issues “fall short”.