A Brexit ‘divorce’ deal is so close to being agreed Theresa May is reportedly poised to fly to Brussels on Friday morning to sign the agreement - though the Democratic Unionist Party could still block the package.
Reports were surfacing late on Thursday that the UK and Ireland could reach agreement within hours on how to run their post-Brexit Irish land border.
This would pave the way for a deal that would remove the last obstacle to opening free trade talks with the EU, and draw a line under talks that collapsed earlier this week.
May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council Chairman Donald Tusk could meet early on Friday to seal the border deal, the European Commission’s chief spokesman said.
“We are making progress but not yet fully there,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said. “Talks are continuing throughout the night. Early morning meeting possible.”
A spokesman for PM May said Brexit discussions were ongoing while a senior Irish official that talks were moving swiftly and that a deal was possible in hours.
“It is moving quite quickly at the moment,” the Irish official told a British Irish Chamber of Commerce event in Brussels. “I think we are going to work over the next couple of hours with the UK government to close this off. I say hours because I think we are very close.”
But the DUP, which stalled the deal earlier in the week, could yet put a spanner in the works.
It insists that Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, must leave the EU in the same way as the rest of the UK - so no ‘special’ deal for Northern Ireland alone.
All sides say they want to avoid a return to a ‘hard’ border between EU member Ireland and the British-ruled province of Northern Ireland, which might upset the peace established after decades of violence.
May get the support of the DUP, which is propping up her minority government.
Moving to talks about trade and a Brexit transition are crucial for the future of May’s premiership, and to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and its sixth largest national economy after Britain leaves on March 29, 2019.
The EU will only move to trade talks if there is enough progress on three key issues: the money Britain must pay to the EU; rights for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU; and how to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
As speculation swirled about whether London, Dublin and Brussels were about to clinch a border deal, Tusk’s office said he would brief reporters at 6.50am.
The EU says May has an effective deadline of Sunday night if she wants to seal a deal and hope to have agreement on trade talks in time for the EU summit on December 14.