EU and UK officials say they are relieved to be re-engaging after months of sparring, with both sides talking up the prospect that they could resolve their differences – but in Brussels there is caution about whether the turmoil currently roiling Liz Truss’s Government will undermine any progress in reparing relations.
After revealing that technical talks will take place this week, European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said the EU was “committed to finding joint solutions” over the Northern Ireland Protocol and would approach negotiations “constructively”.
While the tone has improved significantly since Ms Truss took office a month ago, the market convulsions that followed Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget have raised concerns in Brussels about the authority that UK negotiators will possess.
“There is already talk of her being replaced. If that happens, where does that leave our talks?” said one official.
However, another EU insider insisted that officials were not seeking to second-guess developments in Westminster.
“It’s not something you can predict or game-plan,” he said. “We also had this with Boris Johnson, when things also went up and down. You really have to play what is in front of you.”
The mood in Brussels is still hopeful after a period of fractious relations with Downing Street. It follows what both Brussels and London described as a positive first call between Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič last Friday.
Other recent key meetings include Ms Truss welcoming Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin to Downing Street; and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris meeting Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney.
The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London this weekend is also seen as a moment to rebuild bridges.
Sunday’s admission by new Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker – that he went too far in with his “ferocious” stance on negotiations with the EU – is seen as a welcome development, along with his statement on Monday that he is “convinced” the two sides can “get a deal which works for everyone” if they enter talks without pre-conditions.
The talks on Friday would be the first since 11 February, when discussions were abruptly severed when Ms Truss, who was then foreign secretary, indicated she would be ready to unilaterally break the EU-UK Withdrawal Treaty.
Legislation that would enable the UK Government to scrap parts of the Protocol is to return to Parliament on 11 October for a second reading in the House of Lords.
Ms Truss has also agreed to meet EU leaders at the inaugural summit of the European Political Community (EPC) in Prague on Thursday, and has said she is willing to host the next summit in London.
This represents a sharp change in tone since the spring, when she dismissed the proposed EPC, a club that includes the EU and its neighbours, after it was initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron.