The government of Boris Johnson is due to enter into intensive negotiations with the European Union on a possible Brexit deal ahead of the summit in Brussels at the end of next week, in a major boost to the possibility of reaching an agreement before the October 31 deadline.
The tunnel is the European language of the negotiations held by a small team of officials from the British and the European Union and is taking place in complete secrecy, meaning that offers and concessions will not be disclosed.
The ambassadors of the remaining 27 EU member states were given the green light for Michel Barnier to open the new round of accelerated talks on Friday.
He said that the European Commission and Britain agreed to intensify discussions in the coming days.
“The EU’s position remains the same: there must be a legally operative solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, protects the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and safeguards the integrity of the Single Market.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday he had told the prime minister to present his proposals for Brexit by next Thursday. But he added that “positive signals” are now coming out of London.
The development came after Johnson met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday, who offered an upbeat assessment of the prospects for Britain to reach an agreement by next Thursday’s EU summit.
While the details of Johnson’s recent proposals from the meeting did not appear, Varadkar said: “I had a very good meeting today with the prime minister and our teams together – very positive and very promising. I am now absolutely convinced that both Ireland and Britain want there to be an agreement that’s in the interests of Ireland, the UK, and EU as a whole.”
Johnson made no public comment after the meeting in an apparent attempt to rebuild trust between the two leaders, which have worsened in recent weeks, and avoid blocking any breakthroughs.
The British pound rose 2% against the dollar to $1.246 on news of the news as the focus shifted to Brussels as US Secretary of State Steve Barclay arrived for discussions with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator in Britain.
While some progress appears to have been made at the meeting, the EU is still far from the British position with tariff proposals, which are by far the biggest sticking point.
But Brussels said it would not accept the proposal on the grounds that it would require customs inspections on the island of Ireland, which it says would threaten an Irish peace settlement.
Varadkar’s remarks on Thursday suggested that Johnson might have turned his red lines and could now be prepared to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union.
But any concession that would keep Northern Ireland in the customs union would cause a political storm within the Conservative Party, and it is unclear whether there will be a majority in parliament for such an agreement.