In the latest sign that Europe's intransigence towards the UK is significantly softening the EU Commission's top spokesman said the bones of an agreement on economic cooperation can be thrashed out over the next two years.
Margaritas Schinas told a press conference in Brussels that both sides will be able to put forward their demands over what a future UK-EU trade deal would look like, before guiltily joking that he had revealed too much.
The admission from one of the EU's top figures will provide a huge boost to Theresa May's negotiating team, and will calm fears that some European figures will look to punish Britain by blocking a common-sense economic settlement.
Greek eurocrat Mr Schinas made the remarks as he was quizzed by journalists over the Supreme Court ruling on Article 50 delivered earlier today and whether Brussels would seek a transitional deal with the UK to ensure its smooth exiting from the bloc.
The Greek eurocrat admitted informal discussions can and will take place between the parties
Donald Trump has said he wants to strike a trade deal with Britain
He was also asked whether or not the official trigger for divorce talks, which judges ruled must be voted on by parliament, can be revoked and tellingly indicated that this would be one of the issues up for negotiating with the UK Government.
Mr Schinas confirmed that Britain and the EU cannot legally seal a trade deal until the entire Brexit process has been completed, but let slip that does not mean informal discussions on the form of the agreement will not take place.
He said: "If one wants to divorce but remain friends on the basis of a new relationship, first one needs to agree on the terms of an orderly separation.
"An orderly separation where both sides honour their obligations and then on the basis of this you build a future new good relationship."
EU spokesman Margaritas Schinas said the EU can discuss a trade deal with Britain
Nothing in the treaties prevents a member state discussing trade.
Get Quotes on Home Insurance
EU spokesman Margaritas Schinas
Quizzed further on the possible negotiation of a trade deal, he added: "I didn't use the term allowed or not allowed. I was a bit more subtle in saying that nothing in the treaties prevents a member state discussing trade.
"A discussion is when you sort of express what you would like to see as part of a menu, and negotiation is when you start actually negotiating on the menu and ordering the food."
He then drew laughs as he concluded: "I won't go an inch further than that. I think that was already too risky."
The eurocrat also reaffirmed the EU's commitment to pursuing an open free trade policy, taking a noted swipe at new US President Donald Trump by saying it would fight the "trend towards unilateralism" and putting up barriers.
BORDER-FREE Schengen: Countries you can visit WITHOUT a passport
Mon, January 23, 2017
If you are an EU national, you do not need to show your national ID card or passport when you are travelling from one border-free Schengen EU country to another. The Schengen Area is an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders.
1 of 25
He said: "The EU is one of the world's most open economies and we remain committed to free and fair international trade focussed on the needs of citizens and aimed at ensuring that the benefits of trade are shared as widely as possible.
"The Commission is convinced that by working together with like-minded partners we can not just improve opportunities for our economy but shape globalisation to ensure that it fits with our values in an open fair and rules based society. In a nutshell Europe is open for business."
Mr Schinas' comments will provide a shot in the arm to Britain's plan to negotiate trade deals across the globe after leaving the EU, as well as boosting hopes of a smooth Brexit transition to a new economic relationship with the bloc.
New US President Donald Trump has already announced his intention to strike an agreement with the UK as soon as possible and countries including Australia, New Zealand, India and Mexico have all expressed strong interest in following suit.