Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels for crucial Brexit talks on Wednesday in the hope that both sides can use the positive momentum generated by a Northern Ireland deal to save the trade talks.
The announcement of the meeting in Brussels came after the British Prime Minister announced on Tuesday that he would remove all ‘breaking the law’ clauses from controversial Brexit legislation, in order to revive relations with the EU.
Mr Johnson, who will meet over dinner with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said the situation was “very difficult” but said “the power of gentle reason” could prevail.
The meeting allows both sides to hold crucial negotiations ahead of a European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday, where Ms von der Leyen will brief EU27 leaders on the outcome to see if a deal is possible.
The dinner is seen as a final attempt to break a deadlock in the talks on three long-standing friction points: how to guarantee fair competition thanks to a “level playing field” for companies; dispute settlement arrangements; and EU access to UK fishing waters.
A senior UK official said Mr Johnson hoped the discussion “would provide a political impetus that would allow negotiators to try to finish the job”. But the official added that it was highly unlikely that a framework agreement would emerge: “There is still too much to do.”
Diplomats said Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, was “grim” during a video meeting with EU ministers on Tuesday. One diplomat said Barnier’s message was that prospects for a deal before the end of the year were “rather minimal at this point”.
However, a separate agreement on Tuesday between the EU and the UK on the implementation the Northern Ireland Protocol – part of the withdrawal agreement signed last year to govern future trade between mainland Britain and the region – has boosted confidence between the two sides.
The diplomatic breakthrough allowed Mr Johnson to announce he was removing clauses in the legislation allowing UK ministers to violate the treaty, which would have violated international law.
Downing Street said the Northern Ireland deal, brokered by Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and commission deputy Maros Sefcovic, was “very good”, but insisted it “meant nothing for a broader negotiation”. The Northern Ireland agreement aims to maintain the movement of goods through the Irish Sea with or without a trade agreement.
Mr Gove said: ‘It was always very important that we make sure that there is no border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It is guaranteed.
“What we have also been able to do is make sure there are no tariffs, no costs for businesses in Northern Ireland and we will also be able to ensure unhindered access to goods. who come from Northern Ireland to the UK, ”he added.
Simon Coveney, Irish Foreign Minister, said: “I hope this is a signal that the UK government is in the mood for deals and that we can now get some momentum into the negotiations.”
The agreement ad by the UK government and Brussels on Tuesday covers issues related to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, such as animal and plant border checks, export declarations, the supply of medicines and the supply of food products, including chilled meat, to supermarkets.
It also lists the criteria for goods considered ‘at risk’ to enter the EU when moving from Britain to the region, making them potentially subject to tariffs.
The clauses of the legislation had been presented by Mr Johnson as a ‘safety net’ to ensure the smooth flow of trade across the Irish Sea from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland after Brexit, when the region will remain subject to the EU customs code.
But the introduction of the measures, which ministers admitted would violate international law, had been condemned by the EU, which launched a lawsuit against the UK.
Ireland hailed the deal but there was a cold response from pro-British trade unionists in Northern Ireland, who have consistently opposed the protocol because it treats the region differently from other parts of the UK.
Diplomats said EU leaders could use this week’s EU summit, which runs until Friday, to pressure Brussels to come up with emergency measures without a deal if the committee fails to do so. still haven’t done by then.
The measures would aim to avoid chaos by taking measures such as temporarily guaranteeing the continuation of EU-UK flights after the end of the transition period on 31 December. Brussels hesitated to announce them as long as trade negotiations are still active.