The EU has rejected a push by Boris Johnson to relax rules on food safety as a way of easing Brexit disruption at Northern Ireland’s ports.
UK negotiators have been pushing for the bloc to take a more flexible approach on food import and animal health regulations that would reduce the need for disruptive new controls.
But the European Commission signalled on Friday that it could not adopt the compromise plan.
The UK had wanted the EU to take a “risk assessment-based” approach to animal safety that would have taken into account that the UK currently has very similar rules to the EU.
But the Commission believes this would undermine EU food safety rules and the bloc’s “zero risk” approach.
Instead, the EU says the UK would have to formally align with EU food rules if it wants reduce border checks and controls.
The UK government has ruled this out and says it must have the freedom to diverge from EU rules.
Since 1 January Northern Ireland has effectively had a customs and regulatory border with the rest of the UK, which has caused significant disruption to trade and shortages of some goods.
But the situation is set to worsen later this year when grace periods exempting supermarket suppliers expire.
The EU and UK have been locked in new Brexit talks since February in a bid to come to a compromise before the grade periods expire.
The UK has unilaterally extended the deadline for the even stricter controls – a move the EU says is unlawful.
But meanwhile both sides are far from an agreement, with significant differences remaining and no landing zone in sight.
Officials in Brussels told The Independent that negotiators from both sides are constantly in touch about the issue.
Ireland’s public broadcaster RTE News reports that Lord Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, and EU vice president Maros Sefcovic are expected to meet business leaders in Northern Ireland as early as next week to discuss the issue.