Rishi Sunak says he is “giving everything” this weekend to secure a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, and he wants to “get the job done”.
But the prime minister said there was no deal yet between the UK and the EU.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the deal on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is “moving towards conclusion”.
A number 10 source has described the talks as positive.
The Taoiseach said an agreement could be reached within days but it was “in no way guaranteed” as negotiators still have a gap.
He urged politicians in the UK, Brussels and Northern Ireland to “go the extra mile” to bring it in line.
The Northern Ireland Protocol – agreed under former PM Boris Johnson after Britain formally left the European Union – has been a constant source of tension.
It sees Northern Ireland continue to comply with certain EU laws to avoid the need to check goods at the border with the Republic of Ireland.
But it does mean that goods coming from England, Scotland and Wales are screened when they reach Northern Irish ports.
Some, including Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), believe it undermines the country’s position in the rest of the UK and affects trade.
The DUP, which wants less EU oversight of the system, is currently blocking the formation of a devolved government in Northern Ireland over its concerns.
The UK and EU are negotiating a way forward and appear to be on the verge of striking a new deal – for which the prime minister is trying to drum up support.
Speaking to the Sunday Times from Downing Street, Sunak said: “I’ve been here all weekend trying to get it done … We’re giving it everything we’ve got.”
He said he wanted to show that Brexit “works for every part of the United Kingdom”, continuing: “There is unfinished business on Brexit and I want to get the job done.”
The Prime Minister said “the idea that the EU could impose laws on Northern Ireland is not acceptable without their say”, adding that it was important to ensure stability for the people of Northern Ireland.
“This is about the people and communities of Northern Ireland,” he told the newspaper. “It’s about what’s best for them and that should be on everyone’s mind.”
In an article for the Sunday Telegraph the Prime Minister said: “Resolving this issue is fundamental to everything I believe in as a Conservative, a Brexiteer and a unionist.”
The BBC understands that King Charles had plans to meet the President of the European Commission in the UK on Saturday.
The planned meeting between the King and Ursula von der Leyen, originally reported by Sky News, was not part of talks between the UK and the EU and multiple sources said their visit was canceled for operational reasons.
It is not known when she will now be in the UK, but the fact that a meeting was planned indicates that a deal was due to take place – and presented publicly – while she was in the UK.
Some even suggested that a new deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be called the Windsor Agreement.
Earlier a DUP source had told the BBC that they had no meeting scheduled for the weekend as per protocol.
DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson also said: “The aim in London and Brussels should be to get it right rather than rush it.
“The wrong deal will not restore power sharing but will deepen division for future generations.”
The prime minister is facing additional pressure from some Conservative MPs over Northern Ireland’s current obligation to comply with certain EU laws and be accountable to the European Court of Justice.
Eurosceptic Tory MP Sir John Redwood said: “The UK needs to stop the EU imposing laws on Northern Ireland. The EU needs to bring the unionists over to the side.”
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?
The Northern Ireland Protocol is a trading arrangement negotiated during the Brexit negotiations. This allows goods to be moved across the Irish land border without the need for a check.
Before Brexit, it was easy to transport goods across this border as both sides followed the same EU rules. After the UK left, special trading arrangements were needed because Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union.
The EU has strict food regulations and some goods – such as milk and eggs – require border checks when arriving from non-EU countries.
The land border is a sensitive issue due to Northern Ireland’s turbulent political history. It was feared that cameras or border posts – as part of these checks – could lead to instability.
The UK and EU agreed that protecting the Northern Ireland peace deal – the Good Friday Agreement – was an absolute priority.
Therefore, both sides signed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
It is now part of international law.