'Show us you've got numbers for a deal', EU leaders tell Boris
EU leaders are prepared to give the green light to a draft Brexit agreement today - but will tell Boris Johnson to prove he has the necessary support in London before signing off on the deal.
As negotiations go down to the wire, doubts remain over whether it will be possible for the UK to leave the EU on October 31.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels today for one of the most crucial EU summits in recent history.
A deal was on the verge of completion last night after yet another day full of twists and unexpected delays.
Mr Johnson held multiple meetings with the DUP in a bid to gain its support for a border down the Irish Sea. If the party does go along with his plan, it will be a remarkable U-turn by Arlene Foster and her 10 MPs.
A number of sticking points remained last night, including technical details on how VAT will be collected in Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Significantly the leaders of Germany and France have both indicated they are ready to support the deal.
Sources said some doubts remain at EU level about whether Mr Johnson can get the deal through the Commons.
The fear that the prime minister could suffer the same rejection as Theresa May has not been helped by the DUP's running commentary on events.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said: "Everything is going in the right direction, but you will have noticed yourselves that with Brexit and above all with our British partners anything is possible."
While EU officials believed the DUP was on board with Mr Johnson's proposals, party leader Arlene Foster took to Twitter to signal that talks were far from complete.
"Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support," Ms Foster tweeted.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said success in passing a Brexit deal rests on the DUP's stance. "If the DUP says, 'This is intolerable to us' that will be quite important," he said.
Sources told the Herald that EU leaders will make it clear to Mr Johnson that he must move to quickly prove he has the numbers in Westminster to pass the deal.
The UK government intends to call a special sitting of the House of Commons on Saturday so that votes on the deal can take place.
Mr Johnson is desperate to have a political declaration agreed by then so that he is not forced by MPs to request a Brexit extension.
It is possible that EU leaders will want to meet again when they have had more time to study the legal text of the new deal.
"There may have to be a technical extension beyond October 31," a source said.
"Obviously that's not part of Boris Johnson's plan but at this stage we have to be practical about what is physically possible to achieve in the time available."
The prime minister's official spokesman said Mr Johnson had updated his Cabinet, which gave its "full support" to get a deal ahead of the summit after a "positive discussion".
"He said there was a chance of securing a good deal but we are not there yet and there remain outstanding issues," the spokesman added.
Technical work will continue today to try to resolve issues around how VAT on goods will be applied in Northern Ireland.
It is believed Mr Johnson has accepted that the region will remain aligned to the EU for VAT purposes in order to avoid border checks. However, that means significant work will be needed to develop a method for collecting VAT on goods moving between the North and the mainland UK.