The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, and the European Commission’s vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, are to meet for the second time in a week as part of a renewed push to end the dispute over Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
They will have a “stock-taking” meeting on Monday afternoon and while there is optimism a deal can be done, insiders have cautioned it is a low-key meeting and will not result in a fundamental breakthrough.
One issue that may be resolved is a deal on steel imports and ending tariffs that applied in Northern Ireland but not in the rest of the UK. There have also been reports that the two sides could announce a framework agreement committing to an intensification of talks on trade matters.
Talks, under way since September, are aimed at resolving three key issues: checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, the role of the European court of justice and the application of EU law in Northern Ireland.
Informed sources said there was still “a long way to go” even on trade issues, despite a deal last Monday to give the EU access to real-time information via an HMRC database on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“We might have a database, but with grace periods we don’t have the data we need,” the source said in reference to the UK’s decision not to apply protocol rules mandating customs and other paperwork on food entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
There are also fundamental differences in how to resolve issues relating to goods that come from Great Britain but are consumed in Northern Ireland, mainly supermarket and corner shop produce.
The UK has proposed a “green channel” with no checks or paperwork on trucks carrying goods for supermarkets, arguing a robust trusted trader scheme combined with market surveillance and hefty fines for smugglers is sufficient.
The EU, however, says it needs the database to underpin this before trusted trader schemes can operate and that means customs paperwork for all goods.
The meeting on Monday will assess whether the gap on trade issues has been sufficiently closed to progress to political issues which will require a political compromise involving Rishi Sunak and EU leaders.
Over the weekend both the European Research Group and the DUP indicated they would oppose a deal that did not satisfy their red lines on the ECJ and application of EU law.