Hopes grow for Northern Ireland protocol deal as EU's von der Leyen meets Sunak

© Dan Kitwood, AP

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen will meet in the UK on Monday to discuss changes to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, they said in a joint statement, raising hopes a deal can be reached.

The planned meeting follows months of intensive negotiations over the protocol -- which governs trade in the British province -- signed between London and Brussels as part of the UK's Brexit divorce from the European Union.

The protocol has kept Northern Ireland in the European single market, to the dissatisfaction of the province's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Sunak and von der Leyen "agreed to continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland", said the statement issued on Sunday.

Commission President von der Leyen "will therefore meet with the Prime Minister in the UK tomorrow (Monday)," it added.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed news of the meeting.

"I was in contact with President von der Leyen today and very much welcome news of a meeting... between von der Leyen and Rishi Sunak tomorrow," he wrote on Twitter.

"We should acknowledge the level of engagement between the UK gov, the European Commission and the NI parties in recent months" he added.

As speculation mounted on Saturday that a deal was imminent, the Irish taoiseach said he believed a deal was close.

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