In the midst of rumors that a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol may soon be reached, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is meeting with local political parties in Belfast.
A deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements may be reached as soon as next week, according to sources.
On Friday morning, Mr. Sunak will meet with local party leaders before continuing on to Germany to meet with EU leaders.
James Cleverly, his foreign secretary, will meet with the European Commission on Friday in Brussels.
According to the Foreign Office, Mr. Cleverly will meet with Vice-President Marcos Sefcovic of the European Commission as part of "ongoing engagement and constructive dialogue with the EU to find practical solutions that work for the people of Northern Ireland.".
The trade agreement that was reached to guarantee free trade of goods across the Irish land border after Brexit is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Unionist parties contend that establishing a functional trade border across the Irish Sea would jeopardize Northern Ireland's standing within the UK, which is at the center of a political impasse in the province.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest of these parties, refuses to participate in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government until its concerns are addressed. The power-sharing government was instituted in the 1990s as a means of ending decades of violence.
Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said Northern Ireland shouldn't have a separate legal status from the rest of the UK in remarks made before his party's meeting with the prime minister.
The need for the European Court of Justice would be eliminated if Northern Ireland wasn't subject to the single market's rules and laws, he continued.
A new Northern Ireland government cannot be formed without the support of the DUP, despite the fact that Sinn Féin, a republican party that accepts the protocol, defeated it in the May 2022 elections.
The DUP has stated that before agreeing to resume power-sharing, it must be satisfied with any resolution.
However, the agreement has divided political opinion, and the UK and the EU have been in protracted talks about altering how it functions.
I have heard that a deal is not quite finalized.
In a sense, that makes sense because a deal isn't official until both parties sign on the .ted line. However, diplomats in Brussels concur that a compromise strategy is still not quite ready.
It's possible to interpret Rishi Sunak's and his ministers' current political tour as the kind of pre-announcement end-game choreography.
An alternative interpretation, however, is that the prime minister will attempt to press the EU for additional concessions by using today's discussions with Northern Ireland's political parties, particularly the DUP.
It would be a risky move at this point considering that numerous sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations have said an announcement could happen as early as next week.
However, given the nature of politics and Brexit, everything could still go wrong.
This weekend's meeting between Mr. Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, will be closely watched.
I've been told that conversation will center on any outstanding issues.
Before Mr. Sunak's visit, No. 10 stated: "While talks with the EU are ongoing, ministers continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure any solution addresses the immediate issues at hand, complies with our overarching goals, and protects Northern Ireland's position in the UK's internal market.
Prime Minister. As part of this engagement process, [is] traveling to Northern Ireland this evening to speak with political parties. ".
The prime minister will travel to Munich for a security summit after the meetings in Belfast.
The prime minister's attempts to come to an agreement on the protocol, though, have revealed divisions within his Conservative Party.
According to Lord Frost, a former minister for Brexit, a "weak deal now" would "make things worse, not better," and "no deal is still better than a bad one.".
Northern Ireland "must cease to be subject to laws made in Brussels," wrote David Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group, a group of euroskeptic Tory MPs. It's really that easy, he said. Anything less will not function. ".
The latest phases of the protocol talks, according to Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin, had been "serious and substantive," and trust had been established between UK and EU negotiators.
He added, "I've no doubt that the British prime minister wants to learn from the political parties in Northern Ireland a sense of the various positions that they have in relation to [the protocol] before further discussions over the weekend and next week.
As a component of the post-Brexit agreement reached between the UK and the EU in December 2020, the Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented.
Due to the fact that Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, another member of the EU, it was necessary.
By conducting checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in its place, it seeks to ensure free trade across the Irish land border, but it has caused tension since it went into effect at the beginning of 2021.
Many members of the Northern Ireland Assembly support keeping the protocol in place in some capacity, despite concerns from unionist parties.
Improvements to the protocol are required, according to Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, and the SDLP, in order to make it easier to implement.