In light of reports that a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol may soon be reached, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is in Belfast to meet with regional political parties.
According to sources, an agreement on post-Brexit trading arrangements could be reached as soon as next week.
On Friday morning, before continuing on to Germany to meet with EU leaders, Mr. Sunak will meet with local party leaders.
James Cleverly, his foreign secretary, will visit Brussels on Friday to meet with the European Commission.
The Foreign Office confirmed that Mr. Cleverly will meet with Vice-President Marcos Sefcovic of the European Commission. They stated that this will be done as part of their "ongoing engagement and constructive dialogue with the EU to find practical solutions that work for the people of Northern Ireland.".
The trade agreement known as the Northern Ireland Protocol was reached to guarantee free trade of goods across the Irish land border following Brexit.
It is at the center of a political impasse in Northern Ireland, where unionist parties claim that establishing an actual trade border across the Irish Sea would jeopardize the region's status as a part of the UK.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest of these parties, has stated that until its concerns are addressed, it will not participate in the power-sharing government of Northern Ireland, which was established in the 1990s as a means of ending decades of violence.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said Northern Ireland shouldn't be legally divided from the rest of the UK in remarks made prior to his party's meeting with the prime minister.
Northern Ireland won't need the European Court of Justice if the issue of being subject to single market laws and rules is resolved, he continued.
A new Northern Ireland government cannot be formed without the support of the DUP, despite the fact that it finished second in the May 2022 elections to the republican party Sinn Féin, which accepts the protocol.
Before agreeing to resume power-sharing, the DUP has stated that it must be satisfied with any resolution.
However, the agreement has divided political opinion, and the UK and the EU have been wrangling over how to alter how it functions for a long time.
From what I hear, a deal is not quite finalized.
That much is obvious given that a deal is not finalized until both parties sign on the .ted line. A compromise plan, however, isn't quite there yet, according to diplomats in Brussels.
It is possible to interpret Rishi Sunak's and his ministers' current political tour as the kind of end-game choreography you might see before a big announcement.
An alternative interpretation, however, is that the prime minister will use today's discussions with Northern Ireland's parties, particularly the DUP, to try and then press the EU for final concessions.
When numerous sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations have said that an announcement is likely to be made next week, it would be a risky move at this point.
But since this is politics and Brexit, anything could still go wrong.
The meeting between Mr. Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, this weekend in Munich, will be closely watched.
I have heard that the focus of that conversation will be any outstanding disagreements.
Before Mr. Sunak arrived, No. 10 issued the following statement: "Whilst talks with the EU are ongoing, ministers continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure any solution fixes the practical problems on the ground, meets our overarching objectives, and safeguards Northern Ireland's place in the UK's internal market.
The prime minister. This evening, as part of the engagement process, [is] traveling to Northern Ireland to meet with political parties. ".
After the talks in Belfast, the prime minister will fly to Munich for a summit on security.
However, the prime minister's attempts to come to a protocol agreement have revealed divisions within his Conservative Party.
A "feeble deal now" would "make things worse, not better," according to former Brexit Minister Lord Frost, who also stated that "no deal is still better than a bad one.".
Northern Ireland "must stop being subject to laws made in Brussels," David Jones, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group, a group of euroskeptic Tory MPs, tweeted. That's all there is to it, he said. "Less than that won't work. ".
Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin said Thursday night that the protocol talks' most recent phases had been "serious and substantive" and that trust had grown between UK and EU negotiators.
"I have no doubt that the British prime minister wants to get a sense of the various positions that the political parties in Northern Ireland have in relation to [the protocol] before further discussions over the weekend and next week," he said.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented as a result of the post-Brexit agreement reached by the UK and EU in December 2020.
It was necessary due to Northern Ireland's land border with the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU.
Since it went into effect at the beginning of 2021, it has been a source of tension. Its goal is to ensure free trade across the Irish land border by conducting checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain instead.
Many members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are in favor of the protocol continuing in some form, despite worries from unionist parties.
Improvements to the protocol are required, according to Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, and the SDLP.