UK and EU 'close to a breakthrough' on Irish border issue
The EU is reportedly prepared to confirm a two-year Brexit transitional period as early as January following a breakthrough in negotiations over the Irish border.
While the UK has moved substantially on the issue of the financial settlement with Brussels, the future of the frontier between the Republic and Northern Ireland remains an unresolved issue in the first round of talks.
But according to the Times, British officials have now set out their plans for how a hard border can be avoided, with sources in Dublin saying there had been "movement" ahead of the crucial 14-15 December European Council meeting.
The plans apparently involve the UK devolving powers to the Northern Irish government to allow them to "avoid regulatory divergence" with the Irish republic in key areas such as agriculture and energy.
However progress has been complicated by the political impasse at Stormont, where there is still no functioning executive.
Nonetheless, an EU source told the paper that a transition deal would be "ready in principle" by January.
A British government source confirmed that Mrs May's team were expecting to move the talks on soon, saying:
“In return for making progress on the withdrawal agreement the EU will move on transition by the end of January with a fair wind
Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier made clear yesterday that the transition deal would be offered first, with talks then moving on to a future trading relationship.
"If real ‘sufficient progress’ is actually made, the European council will be able to open the discussion a possible transitional period," the Frenchman told a conference in Berlin.
"Then the member states will define in 2018 the framework of this new partnership with the UK."