British prime minister Rishi Sunak is to brief political parties in Northern Ireland today on a protocol deal which is now on the cusp of agreement.
Amid a flurry of last-minute political engagements, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin will also speak with his UK counterpart James Cleverly in Munich on Friday before travelling to Brussels for a discussion with the EU’s chief negotiator Maroš Šefčovič over the weekend.
Mr Sunak unexpectedly arrived in Belfast on Thursday night with Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris amid mounting speculation that an agreement around the controversial protocol is now imminent.
Mr Sunak will meet with Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill on Friday morning. He will also hold separate meetings with the DUP and other political parties before he flies to Germany for the Munich Security Conference.
Newspaper reports have suggested the British prime minister could brief his Cabinet on the deal and announce it in Parliament on Tuesday.
Separately, Brussels-based diplomats representing the 27 member states have been summoned to a meeting on Friday to discuss the breakthrough in long-running Brexit protocol negotiations.
It is now expected that a final resolution could be approved by both the EU and UK as early as Monday or Tuesday.
Confirming Mr Sunak’s meetings, a No 10 spokeswoman said: “Whilst talks with the EU are ongoing, ministers continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure any solution fixes the practical problems on the ground, meets our overarching objectives, and safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market.”
The spokesperson added that he would be speaking with political parties in Northern Ireland “as part of this engagement process”.
Potential DUP objections
However, a senior DUP figure warned that a failure to end the imposition of EU law in Northern Ireland in any new deal on post-Brexit trade will ensure Stormont’s powersharing impasse continues.
The DUP is currently blocking the functioning of the devolved institutions in Belfast, in protest at the protocol.
Nigel Dodds insisted his party would maintain its block on devolution if an agreement falls short of the measures contained within the UK government’s own stalled draft legislation to un