EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is expected to meet with King Charles III on Monday after arriving in the UK.
According to the EU Commission, the visit with the king will be separate from the Northern Ireland Protocol talks for which she has travelled. The meeting is likely to touch on a variety of issues including climate change and the war in Ukraine.
Von der Leyen arrived in Windsor at approximately 13:30 GMT to meet UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for talks that are set to end years of wrangling and resolve the thorny post-Brexit trade dispute over Northern Ireland.
Striking an agreement with Brussels would be a major victory for Sunak, but he still faces some obstacles. Negotiating the deal with his own Conservative Party and members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland may prove to be a difficult challenge.
If all goes to plan, the deal could end a dispute that has soured UK-EU relations, sparked the collapse of the Belfast-based regional government known as Stormont, and shaken Northern Ireland’s decades-old peace process – the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a border with an EU member, the Republic of Ireland. When the UK left the bloc in 2020, the two sides agreed to keep the Irish border free of customs posts and other checks because an open border is a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.
DUP politicians voiced anger over the fact there were certain checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK, citing that it undermined Northern Ireland’s status in the United Kingdom.
For its part, the DUP laid out ‘7-steps’ they see as non-negotiable with the NI protocol. If these pillars are not incorporated, the DUP is unlikely to agree to any deal.
The DUP has stayed largely silent in recent days, saying it needs to see the details of a deal.
The mood between London and Brussels improved after Sunak, a pragmatic Brexit supporter, took office in October, replacing more belligerent predecessors — Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
A deal is likely to remove customs checks on the vast majority of goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland and to give Belfast lawmakers some say over EU rules that apply there as part of the Protocol.
The thorniest issue is the role of the European Court of Justice in resolving any disputes that arise over the rules.
The UK and the EU agreed in their Brexit divorce deal to give the European court that authority. But the DUP and Conservative Brexiteers insist the court must have no jurisdiction in UK matters.