EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is currently briefing EU member states on the state of play in the Brexit negotiations which Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night described as on a knife edge.
Both teams continued discussions late into the night and will resume negotiations today, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen due to speak by phone later this evening.
Meanwhile, RTÉ News has learned that the UK government will drop the controversial clauses in the Internal Market Bill if a free trade deal is reached, and if parallel discussions on the Northern Ireland Protocol yield long-term and legally sound solutions to the contentious aspects of the protocol.
As the negotiations enter their final days, wide differences remain on the issues of fisheries and the so-called level playing field, including creating a shared set of rules around state subsidies.
On fisheries, the UK has proposed an upfront transfer of €300m in the value of white fish and prawn quota currently caught by European vessels in UK waters ahead of a three-year phasing-in period.
After that, access by EU boats would hinge on an annual negotiation. The EU has rejected this, arguing for a ten-year phasing-in period at which point only 18% of the value of fish caught in UK waters be transferred.
There are also deep divisions over the level playing field, especially around the so-called ratchet or evolution clauses.
This is where the EU expects both sides to evolve their standards in tandem so that neither side can gain a competitive advantage.
However, the UK insists that diverging from EU standards will be a sovereign right post-Brexit.
If a deal can be reached in the coming hours a meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee will be quickly called.
It is understood that if the committee concludes a series of long-term solutions to the contentious aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol then the UK will drop the clauses in the Internal Market Bill that breach the protocol.
The Minister for Housing said the Government is hopeful that a Brexit deal can be achieved, adding it is important to recognise how much progress has been made in many areas.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Daragh O’Brien said progress has been achieved in around 95% of the areas where agreement has been reached.
Mr O’Brien said he hopes the British government understands the importance of achieving a deal because the last thing anyone needs, with the jobs that are underpinned by trade, is a no deal crash out scenario.
He pointed out that we have had these “near standoffs before” and they have been worked through.
Mr O’Brien said the Government is not just standing on the sidelines but have been very involved in negotiations.
He added it was vital that the Good Friday Agreement was in no way impacted by any exit deal.
During a round of broadcast interviews, Britain’s Environment Secretary George Eustice warned the UK could not accept any conditions which “fundamentally violates our sovereignty”.
“Where it becomes difficult is where the EU starts to say things like, ‘Unless you clear your agreement and regulations with us before, we reserve the right to pull certain parts of the agreement and to undermine what’s been agreed,”‘ he told Sky News.
Following their earlier phone call on Saturday, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen acknowledged that there were still “serious differences” to be resolved on fisheries and the mechanism for resolving disputes as well as competition rules.
While the two sides have been circling round the same issues for months, it is unclear whether the intervention of the leaders has created the political space for the negotiators finally to bridge the gap.
What is agreed is that time is rapidly running out.
If there is no deal by the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of the month, then the UK will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union and begin trading with the EU on World Trade Organization terms, with the imposition of tariffs and quotas.
Before then it has to be ratified by both Houses of Parliament in the UK and the European Parliament as well as signed off by the EU leaders.
There had been hopes that could happen at a two-day summit in the Belgian capital starting on Thursday – their final scheduled gathering of the year – but the timetable is looking increasingly tight.
France has publicly warned that it will veto any deal if it is unhappy with the terms, amid signs President Emmanuel Macron is anxious that Mr Barnier is preparing to give too much ground in his determination to get a deal.
The mood around the negotiations is unlikely to be improved by the British government’s decision to bring back to the Commons legislation enabling ministers to override elements of the “divorce” settlement with Brussels in breach of international law.
It means that today – when Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen are due to be speaking – MPs will vote on whether to overturn amendments by the House of Lords that removed the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the border in Ireland.
On Wednesday, MPs will then go on to consider the Taxation (Post-Transition Period) Bill, which contains further similar provisions that have infuriated the EU.
Additional reporting PA