Talks between the UK and the European Union are intensifying this week as both sides try to reach an agreement on post-Brexit trading arrangements.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will welcome European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday for 'final talks' concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Von der Leyen is traveling to Berkshire in England where she hopes to iron-out the complex challenges around the post-Brexit trade agreement concerning the checking of goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain.
A new deal has been anticipated in recent weeks, with the EU believed to have "moved on certain issues", according to Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. All going well, a deal could be struck and announced later today.
Build up to this point
In mid-February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks near Belfast with local political parties as reports said an amended deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol could be reached.
The protocol on post-Brexit trading rules, signed between London and Brussels, keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union and stipulates checks on goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.
It has proved deeply unpopular with the UK-run province's unionist politicians, causing months of political deadlock.
London and Brussels have been negotiating for months to try to ease tensions over the trade arrangements.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald gave an upbeat assessment, saying: "It's very much game on." Her party is in favour of the protocol to prevent a hard border in Ireland.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), walked out of Stormont in February 2022, mainly in protest against the protocol, causing political paralysis.
Britain this month said it would push back the deadline for Northern Ireland's parties to form a government for a year to 18 January 2024 but reserved the right to call an election at any time in the intervening period.
Varadkar: 'Inching towards conclusion'
Speaking over the weekend, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said an agreement over the protocol was "inching towards a conclusion" but there is still a gap to be closed.
Varadkar also said there is a possibility of an agreement being reached in the next few days, but cautioned it is by no means guaranteed.
"Certainly the deal isn't done yet," Varadkar said.
"But I do think we are inching towards conclusion and I really want to thank the UK government and the European Commission and the Northern Ireland parties for the level of engagement that they've done in recent months to get us to this point.
"I would just encourage everyone to go the extra mile to come to an agreement because the benefits are huge. They allow us to have the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running in the north and the Good Friday Agreement working properly again, and also to put relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland and the European Union on a much more positive footing.
"That's really important given all the other challenges we face, particularly with inflation and the war in Ukraine," Mr Varadkar said.