Theresa May is set to meet key EU figures for talks on Brexit which could determine whether the UK is able to move on to negotiations about trade.
The BBC understands the two sides have now reached broad agreement over the UK “divorce bill” and citizens’ rights.
But Irish ministers said there was no breakthrough on the outstanding issue of the border with Northern Ireland.
No 10 said “plenty of discussions” lay ahead as it seeks EU leaders’ backing to start trade talks in ten days time.
As the Brexit process enters a crunch phase, the prime minister will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
Mr Tusk represents the leaders of the other 27 EU members, who all need to agree for there to be a move to the next phase of talks.
The UK voted for Brexit last year and is due to leave in March 2019, but negotiations have been deadlocked over three so-called separation issues.
Where are the talks at?
The EU says it will only recommend the start of talks about future trade arrangements when it deems “sufficient progress” has been made on three issues – the status of expat citizens, the “divorce” bill and the Northern Ireland border.
The UK has been set a deadline of this week to come forward with an improved offer on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal.
Downing Street has described the meeting as an “important staging post” on the route to the “crucial” summit with the other 27 leaders on 14 December when it hopes to get the green light for the start of trade talks .
On the “divorce bill”, the UK is understood to have recently increased its offer, which could be worth up to 50bn euros (£44bn).
On the issue of EU citizens’ rights, it has been reported that the UK has agreed that the three million citizens from other EU states who want to stay in the UK will not have to pay to apply for settled status.
Ministers have already suggested people legally resident in the UK before an as yet unspecified cut-off date will be allowed to stay and they want to make the process “as easy as renewing a driving licence”.
Is Ireland now the sticking point?
Progress in other areas has led to attention being focused on the Ireland question in recent days.
The Irish government is seeking guarantees from the UK that there will be no customs checks on the border with Northern Ireland after Brexit and movements of goods and people will remain seamless.
Mr Tusk has stated Dublin must be satisfied there will be no return to a “hard border” before the EU moves on to the next stage of negotiations.
As the Irish cabinet met on Monday morning, Ireland’s Europe minister Helen McEntee said while there had been progress she did not believe the two sides were yet close to a resolution.
“We are certainly not looking to veto anything,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
“Ireland wants to move on to phase two but it would be absolutely impossible to allow that when we don’t have an absolutely concrete commitment there won’t be a hard border.”
And Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney insisted Dublin “wants to work with the British government here, not against them”.
Katya Adler’s view from Brussels
Brussels is in an upbeat mood.
There’s talk of movement, traction and an absence of negativity in last-minute negotiations before the prime minister’s visit.
Ireland remains the outstanding issue. Dublin wants written assurances from Downing Street that the Good Friday agreement will be protected.
Theresa May’s lunch with the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker is key.
She will be expected to give personal assurances and iron out any outstanding disagreements. If all goes smoothly, a joint UK-EU report will then be published locking in all understandings to date.
Both sides describe themselves as cautiously optimistic but some in the UK are likely to feel the government has bowed too deeply to EU demands.
Trouble for May back at home?
Mrs May’s meeting comes as the EU withdrawal bill returns to the Commons for a fourth day of debate, with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warning there will be no Brexit at all unless Mrs May is supported.
His comments came after a series of prominent Conservatives including Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood and former chancellor Lord Lawson signed a letter calling on Mrs May to refuse to settle the UK’s “divorce bill” unless Brussels agrees to a series of demands.
These included ending the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction the moment the UK leaves in March 2019.
The prime minister has promised the European Court of Justice’s writ in the UK will end but she has suggested it might continue for an unspecified period during an “implementation” phase after the UK leaves.
Tory MP and pro-Brexit campaigner Owen Paterson claimed he was “right behind” the prime minister, despite signing the letter.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It is very important that the European Union understands that many of us are getting fed up with the fact that they are treating [Mrs May], in some ways, pretty rudely and churlishly and not getting on to the absolute key negotiation, which is the economic relationship we have with the European Union once we leave.
“The simple slogan of the referendum was we want to take back control. Once we have taken back control we can really enjoy the advantages.”
Article Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-42217735