BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union no longer expects a new proposal from Britain for the Ireland-UK border fix after Brexit and negotiators from both sides are seeking to narrow differences together in direct talks, diplomatic sources in Brussels said.

A Brexit sign is seen between Donegal in the Republic of Ireland and Londonderry in Northern Ireland at the border village of Muff, Ireland, February 1, 2018. Picture taken February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

That marks a small step forward in the Brexit talks as the 27 states who will remain in the bloc have previously insisted that London present formal new proposals for the border in writing.

Brexit negotiators from both sides – Sabine Weyand for the EU and Oliver Robbins for Britain – have been locked in Brussels this week in what one diplomat described as “tunnel negotiations” to narrow down the outstanding differences.

The issue of how to preserve an open border between EU state Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland – Britains only land frontier – after Brexit is the last remaining hurdle, with nearly everything else in the withdrawal agreement agreed before Britain leaves next March.

The 27 EU states will hear on progress at a meeting of national ambassadors, without Britain, on Friday evening. The sides are expected to continue intense negotiations through the weekend with hopes for a breakthrough as early as Monday.

The 27 EU leaders meeting next Wednesday in Brussels want to be able to announce “decisive progress” on the Brexit deal to agree to hold another summit in November. That would be to finalise work on a declaration of close future ties with Britain that would also be part of the Brexit package.

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Both the EU and Britain have signalled progress in recent days, boosting the sentiment on the market, which fears the most damaging no-deal Brexit.

“My feeling is that there is a smaller probability for lack of deal now than we have had for some time,” Danuta Hubner, a European Parliament lawmaker dealing with Brexit, told a committee.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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