Optimistic diplomats and officials have said a new Brexit plan could be published as early as tomorrow morning after hours of painstaking negotiations. European sources have suggested that the chances of a deal were made possible after Mr Johnson dropped a number of demands. Michel Barnier this morning told a meeting of EU ministers that his British counterpart, David Frost, agreed that a customs border should not emerge on the island of Ireland after Brexit and the Democratic Unionist Party should not be handed a unilateral veto over any future backstop mechanism.
Mr Barnier also told the gathering that the chances of a deal hinge on using the Northern Ireland-only backstop as the “basis” of the new agreement, according to an EU source.
The move is a significant climbdown from the Prime Minister’s original Irish border proposals, which were put forward to Brussels just two weeks ago.
One EU diplomat familiar with the talks said a new legal text could be published tomorrow morning in order to give leaders a chance to evaluate the plans ahead of Thursday’s European Council summit.
But Mr Barnier could still perform a stunning U-turn and decide that the draft Brexit deal is unacceptable, the source added.
“It’s still too early to call,” they said.
The deal relies on UK officials convincing Brussels that Mr Johnson has support of the House of Commons, especially Tory Brexiteers and the DUP.
France and Germany are understood to be concerned with the covert talks between UK and European Commission negotiators.
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A second source added: “Optics are going to matter a lot. The EU needs a solid base. But, it has good lawyers.”
Under the plans, Northern Ireland would leave the EU’s customs union with the rest of Great Britain but would continue to impement the bloc’s tariff regime to prevent a border with the Republic.
Diplomats have hinted this could eventually become the permanent arrangement in Northern Ireland, instead of acting as a bridge to a future relationship after Brexit.
“Given the UK is not longer looking for a backstop is a bridge to a future customs union-style relationship and wants a minimal free trade agreement then it has to be something that is the final product and Northern Ireland only,” one EU source said.
Earlier today Mr Barnier set a midnight deadline for UK negotiators to agree a partial text that could be presented to EU leaders on Thursday.
The Brussels bureaucrat warned that without an agreement by Wednesday the bloc’s leaders would be forced to consider another Brexit delay to allow talks to continue.
But officials in Berlin claimed that any substantial changes could take until next year to formally conclude.
Angela Merkel believes the complexities of the Irish border could take up to two months to “square the circle”.
Senior French officials have also voiced concern over the apparent speed of the negotiations amid fears EU capitals will not be given enough time to review the deal.
One Paris source said: “We have seen nothing yet. Whatever it is, we will want to look at it in very serious detail.”