British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels in an attempt to reach a breakthrough on a post-Brexit trade deal with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Later this morning the European Commission is expected to approve a series of measures, agreed yesterday with the UK, on how to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol.
However, diplomats are cautious as to how much that agreement will help in the wider free trade negotiations.
The move came after the two sides reached an agreement on the implementation of the Brexit divorce deal as time rapidly runs out to the end of the transition period on 31 December.
But the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned EU foreign ministers that he now believes a no-deal departure is more likely than a trade agreement being brokered in time.
“It’s clear that some political impetus will be required for the talks to make any more progress,” a British government source said yesterday.
Britain formally left the EU in January, but has since been in a transition period during which it remains in the EU single market and customs union, meaning that rules on trade, travel and business have stayed the same.
Ms von der Leyen said that “I look forward” to welcoming Mr Johnson, tweeting: “We will continue our discussion on the Partnership Agreement.”
Downing Street hopes this evening’s dinner meeting could pave the way for talks between negotiators Mr Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, to resume.
EU leaders are due to gather in Brussels tomorrow for a two-day summit, potentially giving further political impetus for a deal.
It is understood the European Commission has agreed a series of temporary derogations from EU rules on the movement of products of animal origin from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to avoid immediate disruption to the supply of supermarkets.
While the import of sausages, mince and chilled prepared meals will be dealt with through special labelling, it is understood that in the long term Northern Ireland supermarkets will have to source such meats from local suppliers on either side of the border.
It is also understood that EU inspectors, tasked with overseeing how the UK will implement the protocol, will not have dedicated facilities in Belfast but will instead operate from temporary so-called co-working offices.
The UK has agreed, however, that officials in EU capitals will have access to UK customs databases in order to monitor the flow of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
Talks have faltered on the issues of fishing rights, the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies, and the way that any deal would be governed.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has suggested that a no-deal outcome could wipe 2% off gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the economy, in 2021.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has warned that the long-term damage caused by a no-deal situation would be worse than the economic hit from coronavirus.
British Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said a post-Brexit trade deal will be “very difficult” without movement from the EU.
Speaking on BBC’s Breakfast programme, Mr Gove said he hopes this evening’s meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen will create “further political momentum”.
The Taoiseach told a meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party last night that significant differences remain on the issue of the level playing field.
Micheál Martin said there is an ongoing risk of a no-deal Brexit, which would be very serious across the regions.
He said, however, that there is a route to a resolution on fisheries.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has said there is “ultimately more to gain and salvage from a [Brexit] agreement than we have to lose”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said he thinks Mr Johnson will be willing to make concessions to get an agreement.
Mr Varadkar said “it all takes a little bit of politics at the end and for both sides to move a little bit at the end… but I think that is possible”.
He said that he thinks Mr Johnson will be willing to make concessions as his “natural instincts are much closer to the liberal mayor of London he was, rather than a more conservative Brexiteer”.
He said he believes Mr Johnson wants Britain to be part of the world and to be seen as a country that is a first actor with high standards, but he said Mr Johnson will be very strong on the sovereignty points and “any rules on standards and level playing field rules would have to feel they are not imposed on him”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said today is “pivotal”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time, he said he does believe that the British government wants “to try to find a way of getting a deal.”
Additional reporting Tony Connelly, Reuters