James Cleverly to meet with Maros Sefcovic in talks over the Northern Ireland protocol

Brexit Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The Foreign Secretary will resume talks with his European Commission counterpart as speculation mounts that London and Brussels could be nearing a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

James Cleverly will speak to Maros Sefcovic, the commission’s vice-president, on Monday over a proposal to iron out issues with post-Brexit trade arrangements affecting Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Political expectation about the prospect of an accord has grown, with suggestions that cross-Channel relations have improved since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister.

The announcement last week that a deal had been reached on sharing real-time data on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland was seen as a step towards an overall resolution although a UK Government source said the negotiations were proving “complex and difficult.”

Labour said signs of progress were “promising” and urged Mr Sunak to ignore the right wing of his party to secure a protocol pact with Brussels.

Talk of pushing through the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill criticised by the EU for the way it would override parts of the treaty signed by former prime minister Boris Johnson — has grown quieter in recent months.

Monday's planned meeting between Sefcovic and Cleverly follows a busy week in Northern Ireland for politics.

Last week, Mr Cleverly and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visited Belfast appearances adding to speculation that a protocol announcement is moving nearer.

Irish MEP Barry Andrews told Times Radio on Sunday that there was an “expectation” that a “political declaration” could emerge out of the Cleverly-Sefcovic talks on Monday.

“Not an internationally binding agreement, but a political declaration and framework for the way forward,” said the Fianna Fail politician.

“We had some positive announcements last week… and generally I think there’s been a build-up of trust between the parties.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is due to speak to his European Commission counterpart Credit: Peter Morrison/PA

Speaking to the PA news agency about Monday’s talks, a UK Government source said: “We’d all prefer a negotiated solution but significant gaps remain.

“It is the conversations with the commission that will either bring that about or not.

“Nobody should be under any illusions that this is complex and difficult but the desire to work together on a solution seems to be there."

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