UK and EU officials are hoping to seal a deal on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol by February, after more than a year of wrangling.
Talks over a deal have intensified over the past month, after relations have thawed between London and Brussels during Rishi Sunak’s premiership.
Bloomberg reports that foreign secretary James Cleverly and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic will have their first meeting in-person tomorrow in Brussels.
Talks between London and Brussels have been at a stalemate for more than a year, after both sides agreed that checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea had become too onerous.
The UK wants to completely re-write the protocol to scrap almost all checks, while the EU has said it will only change the way the post-Brexit treaty is implemented.
Any deal would also reportedly need the UK to move away from its insistence that the European Court of Justice must be stripped of its right to arbitrate disputes over the protocol.
Another key stumbling block has been the UK government’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – a piece of legislation that would unilaterally rip up the protocol.
The EU said the bill is a breach of international law and has launched legal proceedings against the UK government.
The Sunday Times reported that Sunak has delayed the bill’s passage through the House of Lords as a part of a goodwill gesture.
“We want to give negotiations the best chance. Public discussions of amendments would not be helpful at this stage,” a senior official told The Sunday Times.
“We’ll let the team try the negotiations with Brussels first. If that doesn’t work, we’ll do the bill with the Lords.”
Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, meaning there needs to be checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
A portion of the unionist community are angry that the protocol effectively separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
This has seen the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuse to sit in Northern Ireland’s regional assembly, with its leaders calling for the protocol to be scrapped entirely.