Rishi Sunak will hold a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday amid growing anticipation that the UK and the EU could be on the verge of agreeing a deal on Northern Ireland Protocol.
But the Prime Minister is facing up to a potential battle with members of his own party as he seeks to satisfy the demands of both Conservative MPs and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over any agreement.
The European Research Group (ERG), a band of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, are expected to meet for talks later on Tuesday even as Downing Street insisted that a final deal had not yet been struck.
A No10 source told PA news agency that central to Mr Sunak’s focus was safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.
There are hopes that a fresh settlement on post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland will be able to secure the return of powersharing at the Stormont Assembly, after the DUP walked out in protest at the protocol last February.
On Monday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the EU’s Maros Sefcovic agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting in the coming days after a “productive” video discussion.
Sources in Brussels welcomed the move to schedule in-person talks as a positive step, but said a location had not been set.
Focus has also turned to the fate of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is currently stalled in the Lords and would allow ministers to override parts of the protocol, after Boris Johnson called on ministers to press on with legislation enabling them to override parts of the protocol.
The intervention by the former prime minister, who negotiated the protocol but whose Government also tabled the Bill at Westminster after unionist outcry at the deal, was a sign that some backbenchers may try to scupper any agreement brokered by Mr Sunak if it fails to address longstanding gripes about the settlement in Northern Ireland.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Monday described the Bill as “one of the biggest tools that we have in solving the problem on the Irish Sea”.
Ms Braverman, a longstanding Eurosceptic, argued that Mr Sunak is right to be “committed to finding a pragmatic solution to resolve these issues”.
Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Prime Minister to allow the Commons to have its say on any final deal, offering Labour support to secure the approval of any new agreement in the event of any Tory rebellion.
It comes as former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis threw his weight behind calls to reform some of the post-Good Friday Agreement architecture in Northern Ireland, arguing that it was failing to reflect the changed electoral landscape in the region.
“That should be embraced as the greatest success of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. But if the Agreement does not evolve further, under current rules, if Alliance and its vote share continues to grow, it will never have the right to nominate the First or Deputy First Minister.
“Democracy cannot succeed when it is set in tram lines that can never cross,” Mr Lewis wrote in the Telegraph newspaper.