RISHI Sunak is to meet the president of the European Commission tomorrow as the UK edges towards a deal over Brexit and Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister will meet Ursula von der Leyen to discuss “practical solutions” for the problems around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It comes amid growing speculation that the UK and EU may be about to sign a deal that could remove post-Brexit trade barriers between NI and GB created by the protocol.

Checks on goods have contributed to Unionist anger in the region, including the DUP refusing to share power with Sinn Fein at Stormont.

However any deal could collapse if the DUP are not fully supportive, a litmus test that could also trigger a revolt by Brexiteer Tory MPs.

In a joint statement, the PM and Commission President said: “Today, president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak agreed to continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“President von der Leyen will therefore meet with the Prime Minister in the UK tomorrow.”

Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland follows some EU laws to avoid a hard border and customs checks with the neighbouring Republic of Ireland. 

It means goods are checked at ports in Northern Ireland on arrival from GB instead, before they can then be moved onto the Republic, which is a full EU member within the single market.

The new plan would see the goods split into two lanes - a green lane without checks for those destined for NI only and a red lane with checks for those destined for the Republic.

Earlier, Deputy PM Dominic Raab said the UK and EU were “on the cusp” of a deal, and said he hoped for an agreement within days, rather than weeks.

He suggested the Prime Minister had negotiated a mechanism to deal with what Unionists call the “democratic deficit” in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “If there are any new rules that would apply in relation to Northern Ireland, it must be right that there is a Northern Irish democratic check on that.

“Again, that would mark a significant shift in the paradigm of the arrangements”.

He added: “If we can get this over the line - we’re on the cusp, we’ve made great progress, we’re not there yet - this would be a really important deal.

“Critically, a deal that, with all the best will in the world and with all the progress that others have made, that no prime minister before had been able to secure.

“So, yes, I think it would mark a paradigm shift first and foremost for the communities of Northern Ireland, but I think it would be a significant achievement (for Mr Sunak).”

He also said there would be “less of a role” for the European Court of Justice in NI.

But Brexiter Mark Francois, chair of the European Reform Group of Tory MPs, warned “less of a role” was “not good enough”.

The former minister said: “Just putting a couple of intermediate phases in but in a situation where you still end up with the European Court of Justice is effectively sophistry. I mean, we’re not stupid. What we want is a situation where EU law is expunged from Northern Ireland, so it is treated on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales.”

Asked if he would therefore not back any deal if the ECJ had a role in it, he said: “We have left the European Union. It doesn’t have that role now in England or in Scotland or in Wales.

“If we’re going to treat Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, then we have to get rid of the EU law in Northern Ireland. We’ve been absolutely consistent on this.”

He also warned Mr Sunak not to try to bounce MPs into a vote on any deal.

He said: “Trying to bounce Parliament usually ends badly. If they’ve got a deal they’re proud of, show us the text. Let us run it by our lawyers. Let us fully understand what it means. “Then, at that point, we might be ready to vote on it.”

Asked if there will definitely be a vote in the Commons, Mr Francois said: “Well, if you’re going to make any meaningful changes to the protocol, you’re going to have to have a Bill.

“So, that’s going to mean at some point you’re going to have to have a vote. I think given all the history of this, for the Government to try and bludgeon this through the House of Commons without a vote of any kind would be incredibly unwise.”