(CN) – A deal on Brexit suddenly appeared more likely Friday after the European Union and the United Kingdom said they will intensify negotiations.
The announcement came a day after Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar held private talks in England with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After those discussions, the two leaders said there was a “pathway to a possible Brexit deal.”
Still, details about what might make a deal possible have not been released, leaving it unclear what compromises, if any, are being offered and by whom.
Regardless, the negotiations are certainly focused on how to resolve the issue of Northern Ireland’s future relationship with Ireland and the rest of the EU.
Complications around Northern Ireland have been the major sticking point in striking a deal. Northern Ireland is tricky because it is so enmeshed with Ireland and the open border now in place there is key to the region’s peace. But Brexit poses the problem of potentially forcing a border with customs checks to be re-established and the fear is that could reignite sectarian conflict and damage the island’s economy.
One potential solution has been to keep Northern Ireland tied to the EU, but this possibility infuriates pro-British political forces in Northern Ireland who fear being separated from the rest of the U.K.
A deal is considered vital because it would lay the foundations for the economic and political relationship between the EU and the U.K. after it leaves the bloc. In 2016, 52% of U.K. voters chose to exit the EU.
The optimistic signals on Friday come as a surprise after the week started with dire talk of the negotiations being on the brink of collapse, as figures on both sides blamed each other for killing a deal.
There is urgency to the negotiations. EU leaders are scheduled to meet on Oct. 17-18 at a summit where they are expected to take action on Brexit. They could be looking at giving approval to a deal or, if a deal falls through, vote on whether to allow the U.K. to delay its departure from the EU.
As it stands, the U.K. is set to leave the EU on Oct. 31. Johnson says he is determined to lead the U.K. out of the EU on that date with or without a deal. The British Parliament though is seeking to block him from exiting without a deal, which could cause disastrous economic consequences.
Striking a deal has proven very difficult, mostly because of deep divisions in Britain over Brexit.
The British Parliament rejected a deal former Prime Minister Theresa May struck with the EU that would have kept the U.K. closely aligned with the EU, its largest trading partner. Hardcore Brexit supporters said that deal was unacceptable because it kept the U.K. bound by EU rules and laws.
Johnson, an ardent supporter of Brexit, came into office this summer promising to extricate Britain from the EU “come what may.” But he has run into deep resistance in Parliament.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)