There has been “some progress” towards a Brexit agreement on the Irish border but it remains “50/50” whether a deal will be reached, Sky News understands.
Ahead of a crunch meeting between the Prime Minister and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, officials have been trying to thrash out a form of words to ease the Irish Government’s concerns.
Dublin has claimed the UK Government has not yet tabled a serious or credible plan to avoiding a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit, if the UK quits the EU’s single market and customs union.
The Irish Government has sought commitments from Theresa May on avoiding regulatory or customs divergence either side of the border after Brexit; the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement; the retention of the Common Travel Area; and the need for continued border discussions within the second phase of Brexit negotiations.
The UK Government has repeatedly insisted many of these questions cannot be answered until the next stage of Brexit talks – on a transition period and a future EU-UK trading and customs relationship – is allowed to begin.
The EU has demanded “sufficient progress” on key withdrawal issues – the UK’s exit payment, citizens rights and Irish border – before the second phase can start.
Mrs May hopes to achieve a breakthrough during her visit to Brussels to meet Mr Juncker and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday.
Ahead of the meeting, a source close to the discussions on the Irish border told Sky News: “There’s been some progress on the wording from both sides, but a bit of a distance to go.
“It’s probably about 50/50 whether there will be agreement in near future”.
An EU official, who will be consulted by Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker ahead of Monday’s lunch with the Prime Minister, added “it was more likely than unlikely” that an agreement on withdrawal issues will be reached.
But they added: “A deal is sought, but it all turns on Ireland, and if the Irish Government gives Barnier the green light”.
Most EU leaders meeting at a gathering of left-wing prime ministers in Lisbon, Portugal, this weekend were planning for “sufficient progress” to be achieved by the time of the European Council summit on 14/15 December.
But some doubts are emerging, according to a source present at the discussions, specifically about the status of family members of EU citizens living in Britain.
It is understood this is a sticking point in reaching a deal on post-Brexit citizens’ rights, the part of the phase one divorce negotiations that had previously been considered to be the most advanced.