Rishi Sunak says he will “give it everything” this weekend to secure a no-deal Brexit for Northern Ireland, and wants to “get the job done”.
But the prime minister said no deal had yet been reached between the UK and the EU.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the trade agreement between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was “close to completion”.
A source with No. 10 described the negotiations as positive.
The newspaper said that the agreement could be concluded within days, but that this is “by no means guaranteed” as negotiators still have a gap to fill.
He urged politicians from the UK, Brussels and Northern Ireland to “go the extra mile” to cross the line.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the UK left the European Union.
It sees Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU laws so that goods can flow freely across the border into the Republic of Ireland without restrictions.
Instead, goods from England, Scotland and Wales are checked when they arrive at ports in Northern Ireland.
Critics, including Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), feel this undermines the nation’s position within the rest of the UK as well as affects trade.
The DUP, which also wants less EU oversight of the rules, is currently blocking a devolved government in Northern Ireland over its concerns.
The UK and EU are negotiating a way forward and appear to be on the verge of a new deal – which the PM has been trying to lobby for.
Talking to Sunday times Mr Sunak of Downing Street said: “I’m here all weekend trying to get it done… We’re giving it everything we’ve got.”
He said he wanted to show that Brexit “is working in every part of the UK”, and continued: “There is unfinished business on Brexit and I want to get the job done”.
“The idea that the EU can impose laws on Northern Ireland without it having a say is unacceptable,” the Prime Minister said, adding that ensuring stability for the people of Northern Ireland was key.
“It’s about the people and the communities of Northern Ireland,” he told the newspaper. “It’s about what’s best for them and that has to be top of mind.”
And the Prime Minister added in an article for Sunday Telegraph: “Solving this problem is central to everything I believe as a Conservative, as a Brexiteer and as a Unionist”.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuensberg that the government had “made progress” in negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol, but that agreement was “not yet reached”.
He said the UK wanted to see a shift away from checks on every shipment of goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain.
Asked if MPs would be able to vote on any new agreement, Mr Raab said: “Parliament will have the ability to express itself.”
I spoke earlier to Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday that an agreement on a Northern Ireland protocol could be done within days.
“We want to make sure all the pieces are in place but I think hopefully there will be good news in a matter of days rather than weeks,” he said.
Meanwhile, there were plans for King Charles to meet the head of the European Commission in the UK on Saturday, the BBC understands.
The planned meeting between the king and Ursula von der Leyen, originally reported by Sky News, was not part of the negotiations between the UK and the EU, and multiple sources said her visit was canceled for operational reasons.
It is not known when she will now come to the UK, but the fact that a meeting is planned seems to indicate that a deal is about to be finalized – and offered publicly – while she is in the UK.
Some have also suggested that a new agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be called the Windsor Agreement.
Earlier, a source from the Democratic Unionist Party told the BBC that there were no meetings scheduled over the weekend during the protocol.
DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson said: “The aim in London and Brussels should be to get this right, not rush it.
“The wrong deal will not redistribute power but will deepen division for generations to come.”
The prime minister is facing additional pressure from some Conservative MPs over Northern Ireland’s current obligation to follow certain EU laws and be accountable to the European Court of Justice.
Sir John Redwood, a Eurosceptic Conservative MP, said: “The UK needs to stick with EU laws on Northern Ireland. The EU needs unionists to support it.”
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?
The Northern Ireland Protocol is a trade arrangement, negotiated during the Brexit talks. Goods are allowed to be transported across the Irish land border without the need for cheques.
Before Brexit, it was easy to move goods across these borders because both sides follow the same EU rules. After the UK left, special trade arrangements were needed because Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union.
The European Union has strict food rules and requires border checks when certain goods – such as milk and eggs – arrive from countries outside the EU.
Land borders are a sensitive issue due to Northern Ireland’s turbulent political history. There were concerns that cameras or border posts – as part of these checks – might lead to instability.
The UK and the EU agreed that protecting Northern Ireland’s peace agreement – the Good Friday Agreement – was an absolute priority.
Therefore, both sides signed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union.
It is now part of international law.
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