Michel Barnier and Steve Barclay meet as Leo Varadkar says deal 'possible' by 31 October
Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will decide whether talks between the UK and Brussels are to intensify amid fresh hope that a deal could be reached before 31 October.
He will sit down with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay in the wake of a "positive" meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson on Thursday.
The Irish leader emerged from the discussions with the Prime Minister to say it was now "possible" that a deal could be done in time for the Hallowe'en deadline.
Downing Street, meanwhile, refused to comment on reports in Dublin that the PM had made a major concession in the hope of unlocking an agreement.
Barnier and Barclay will discuss the latest state of play on Friday morning, before the EU chief decides whether the negotiations should now enter the so-called "tunnel", detailed talks which could lead to a deal being thrashed out in time for next week's European Council summit.
Speaking after his meeting with the PM, Varadkar said: "I am now absolutely convinced that both Ireland and Britain want there to be an agreement.
"That is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union as a whole and I do see a pathway towards an agreement in the coming weeks."
He added: "We agreed not to get into the details of any proposals or discussions made, but on the timeline question I think it is possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty agreed to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion and to have that done by the end of October.
"But there is many a slip between cup and lip, and lots of things that are not in my control."
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith told BBC Northern Ireland's The View: "We do need to compromise, we do need to focus on coming together and having an accommodation."
But sounding a note of caution, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "I have to say, time is clearly short, I think it’s going to be difficult to do, so I don’t think we should get too excited, but it opens the potential for a deal, which is something we’ve always wanted to get.”
Johnson has proposed removing the backstop proposal from the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU by Theresa May.
Instead, he suggested a stronger regulatory border in the Irish Sea, as well as some customs checks on goods moving between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Another sticking point in the talks has been the question of how the Northern Ireland Assembly gives its consent to the arrangements, ensuring that no changes can be made without the support of both the unionist and nationalist communities.