Theresa May is to personally meet senior EU officials in Brussels today in a final attempt to smooth over a Brexit deal before a make-or-break summit next week.
The Prime Minister will be joined by Brexit Secretary David Davis for meetings with presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, who she will urge to let the Britain move onto the next phase of trade talks.
Downing Street said ahead of the meeting that there were “plenty of discussions to go” on reaching sufficient progress, amid reports that the question of the Northern Irish border is still a sticking point
Though Brussels has set today as a deadline for reaching any deal ahead of the European Council meeting on 14 and 15 December, No.10 played down the cut-off, referring to it only as “an important staging post” on the road to a deal.
The outcome of today’s meeting is likely to be made public on Wednesday after its content is considered by EU officials at a high-level meeting.
As the Irish border issue emerged as the main sticking point to progress, the country’s European Affairs minister warned that it would need “something that is much clearer than we’ve had to date”.
“It is absolutely impossible for us to allow the negotiations to move on to phase two when we don’t have an absolute concrete commitment from the UK Government that we will not have a hard border on the island of Ireland,” Helen McEntee added.
There were reports last week that the UK had offered a compromise on the subject, but it was swiftly quashed by the DUP, the small Northern Ireland unionist party on which the Government relies for a majority in the House of Commons.
With the 10 MP minor party effectively calling the shots for the Tories on the deal, progress is uncertain.
Britain wants to move to talks about the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU, as well as what any Brexit transition period must look like, but the EU says that “sufficient progress” as judged by the European Council must be made on three “separation” issues before further talks can begin.
The other EU countries have said they will back Ireland’s call on whether sufficient progress on the border has been made and grant or withhold sufficient progress based on that.
The other two issues are those of EU citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. Theresa May is expected to make a concrete offer on the latter at the meeting today, while EU citizens’ groups warned against neglecting citizens’ rights.