European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is no longer expected to travel to the UK to meet Rishi Sunak on Saturday, government sources have confirmed.

After having “positive” discussions with the Prime Minister on Friday, Ms von der Leyen was expected to arrive in Britain for further in-person talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

According to Sky News, the commission leader was also due to meet the King at Windsor Castle while he was in the UK on Saturday.

The broadcaster’s report said the meeting could have been interpreted as Charles “endorsing the deal” the prime minister is trying to negotiate with the European Union to resolve Brexit-related issues.

UK government sources said Ms von der Leyen was no longer expected to travel to Britain.

But they stressed that it would not have been inappropriate for the King, as head of state, to have met a visiting European leader.

“It would be wrong to suggest that the King would be involved in anything remotely political,” a government source told the PA news agency.

Buckingham Palace said it would not comment.

No 10 said that the talks between Mr. Sunak and Ms. von der Leyen would take place in the next few days, without being more exact on the timing.

White smoke appeared to be on the horizon over a protocol solution after a Downing Street source said a phone call between the prime minister and the president on Friday had been “positive” and “good progress” had been made. .

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The King was said to meet the European Commission President in Windsor before it was canceled (Victoria Jones/PA)

The No. 10 sources also confirmed that Sunak had a “constructive engagement” with supermarket bosses and parcel operators on Friday on the protocol and the reforms he is striving for.

The developments were seen as another step towards announcing a deal designed to reduce customs headaches faced by retailers trading between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Speculation about an imminent deal rose further when news broke Conservative MPs were being ordered into Parliament in a three-line whip on Monday, while cabinet ministers were reportedly on alert for a possible conference. phone over the weekend.

Unusually, Downing Street refused to outline Sunak’s plans for the weekend, saying only that he was working on number 10 on Friday.

The protocol, signed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020, was designed to avoid a hard border with Ireland after Brexit by keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union’s single market.

But the treaty has outraged unionists because of the trade barriers it has created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday (Steve Reigate/Daily Express/PA)

Sunak had reportedly been eager to announce a deal this week, but the number 10 said on Friday that “intensive negotiations” with Brussels were still underway.

Any announcement of a deal is expected to spark a potential showdown with Brexit hardline Conservatives.

Sunak has promised that the House of Commons will be able to “have a say” on any deal, which he hopes will see the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

But he would be under intense pressure not to give lawmakers an explicit vote amid fears there could be a rebellion.

The prime minister, since entering No. 10 in October, has backed away from reforms on contentious issues like planning rules when faced with a potential backbench revolt.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has indicated ministers will not sign an agreement on the protocol until the DUP’s concerns are addressed.

The DUP has issued seven tests to win its backing for any deal, including tackling what it calls Northern Ireland’s “democratic deficit” which is subject to EU rules without having a say in them.

Cleverly said “important principles” such as Northern Ireland’s “place as an integral part of the United Kingdom” were central to cross-Channel negotiations.

He told Times Radio: “When we hopefully resolve those issues, then I hope the DUP recognizes that we have addressed their concerns and until we have addressed those concerns we are not going to sign the agreement. .”


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