Asked about a deal, EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters “We are determined” as he welcomed British Brexit Secretary David Davis to the European Commission. The two are expected to speak at a news conference scheduled at short notice to take place at 12:45 p.m. (7.45 a.m. ET).
Brussels diplomats dealing with Brexit for the other 27 EU member states were also summoned urgently for a briefing shortly before Davis arrived and several of them told Reuters that they believed that a weekend of intensive talks had broken deadlock to allow EU leaders to offer a transition deal on Friday.
Before his own meeting with Barnier, and ahead of Davis’ arrival, Ireland’s main Brexit point man, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, warned that Dublin wanted assurances from the EU that there would be “no backsliding” from London on an agreement in December that there would be no disruptive “hard border” on the island, if necessary by aligning Northern Ireland with the EU.
Dublin is concerned at British Prime Minister Theresa May’s rejection of a “backstop” arrangement set out in the EU’s draft of the withdrawal treaty — under which Northern Ireland would effectively submit to EU economic rules and so become potentially isolated from the British mainland. The EU says May agreed to that potential outcome in December.
Britain argues that it has two other preferred outcomes for the Irish border, both dependent on agreement on future EU-UK trade rules. Negotiations on that will not start until next month, once Friday’s EU summit gives Barnier the go-ahead. As a result, Britain is reluctant to give even a conditional nod to a draft treaty on Ireland that May says she could never accept.
EU diplomats said that it was likely that the draft wording on Ireland would not be agreed before May meets the other 27 leaders in Brussels on Thursday or before the 27 meet to agree a transition deal on Friday. However, London would need to assure its good faith on the border issue in order to get a transition.
Brussels is keen to give May a positive outcome this week, locking in an interim political accord that Britain would remain in most EU structures without a vote after it leaves next March until at least the end of 2020. That will not be legally binding until the full treaty is ratified early next year, however.
Other parts of the treaty are still being negotiated, including the controversial protocol on Ireland. It is not vital to conclude that before offering the transition, but Dublin and 4its EU allies are anxious not to give up a vital element of leverage on London before the border issue is settled.
Sterling jumped as optimism for a transition deal grew on Monday. The pound traded 0.54 percent higher versus the euro, its biggest daily gain since late January. The pound also broke through the $1.40 mark against the dollar and was up more than half a percent on the day.
More about: #Brexit