Talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol are moving towards a conclusion, but there is still a gap to close, said Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister.

Speaking in Galway, Varadkar also said there was a possibility an agreement could be reached in the next few days, but warned it was by no means guaranteed.

Talks between Britain and the EU are intensifying this weekend as both sides try to reach an agreement on post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“Certainly the deal is not done yet,” Varadkar said.

“But I think we are moving towards a conclusion and I really want to thank the British Government and the European Commission and the Northern Irish parties for the level of commitment they have made over the last few months to get us to this point.

“I would just encourage everyone to go the extra mile to reach an agreement because the benefits are enormous. They allow us to have the Northern Irish Assembly back up in the north and the Good Friday Agreement to work properly again, and also to put the relationship between the UK and Ireland and the European Union on a much more positive basis.

“It’s really important given all the other challenges we face, especially with inflation and the war in Ukraine,” Varadkar said.

Build up to this point

Almost 10 days ago, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks near Belfast with local political parties as reports said an amended deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be reached.

The Protocol on Post-Brexit Trade Rules, signed between London and Brussels, keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union and provides for controls on goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.

It has proved deeply unpopular among the British 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 a positive assessment, saying: “It’s very much game on.” Her party is in favor 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 at the protocol, causing political paralysis.

Britain said this month it would push back the deadline for Northern Ireland’s parties to form a government by a year to January 18, 2024, but reserved the right to call an election at any time in the interim period.