Today could see a breakthrough in Brexit talks, which would finally enable both sides to discuss trade and transition, as the UK appears to have made a concession around the Irish border.
Green MEP Philippe Lamberts told reporters that he and colleagues were this morning shown a 15 page joint statement in which the UK will commit to “regulatory alignment” between the Republic and Northern Ireland, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.
That would mean Northern Ireland remaining in the single market and customs union, avoiding the need for a hard border.
However, a government spokesman this morning insisted Northern Ireland would be treated no differently to the rest of the country after Brexit.
“The PM has been clear that the UK is leaving the EU as a whole, and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected,” he said, declining to clarify his comments any further.
Meanwhile the DUP’s Sammy Wilson has told the BBC that regulatory alignment would be “contrary to the government’s promises and is not deliverable as it would require the acquiescence of unionists in the NI assembly”.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted that he had spoken with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk this morning and would “be making a statement on Phase I Brexit talks later today”.
Tusk later tweeted enthusiastically about the same call, adding: “Getting closer to sufficient progress at December.”
Tell me why I like Mondays! Encouraged after my phone call with Taoiseach @campaignforleo on progress on #Brexit issue of Ireland. Getting closer to sufficient progress at December #EUCO.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) December 4, 2017
Theresa May and Brexit secretary David Davis are in Brussels for a lunch, due to start at 12:20pm UK time, with Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. May will also meet with Tusk this afternoon.
Ahead of travelling to the continent, Davis this morning said he was optimistic a deal could be agreed today.
“We’ve put seven months of work, both sides, into getting to this point and we are hoping that Mr Juncker today will give us sufficient progress so that we can move on to the trade talks,” he said. “The decision, of course, won’t be taken until 15 December but that’s what we are hoping for, because trade talks are of enormous importance to the United Kingdom and to Europe.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman was rather more cautious, describing today as “an important staging post on the road to the crucial December council”.
It is thought May will make an offer on the divorce bill, while citizens’ rights is broadly agreed on both sides.
Sterling is rallying on the back of reports that a deal could be agreed – the pound was up 0.3 per cent against the dollar to $1.3519.