The accelerated talks were agreed to after a “constructive meeting” in Brussels on Friday between the bloc chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the UK’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.
While nothing has been agreed, and all parties indicate a deal is still some way off, the beginning of the famed “tunnel” phase of negotiations suggests the EU side is taking Johnson’s latest proposals seriously and is prepared to put in the effort to see if they can make them work and come to some agreement.
After talks came close to hitting the buffers earlier this week, Johnson managed to win some confidence he could secure an agreement after a fruitful meeting on Thursday with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Following the Anglo-Irish talks on Thursday, the European Commission said ambassadors agreed on Friday to “intensify discussions over the coming days”.
This takes the negotiations into “the tunnel”, which is Brussels jargon for an in-depth phase of talks among a select group of negotiators designed to minimise leaks.
While details are not yet known, any compromise by Johnson will likely be seen as unacceptable by hard line Eurosceptics within his own party, and possibly by influential members of the DUP, a conservative party in Northern Ireland which propped up the minority administration of his predecessor Theresa May.
Amid the ongoing talks on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk offered Johnson some tepid positivity and revealed he had threatened the UK prime minister with publicly announcing on Friday that all opportunities of securing a deal by the crucial EU summit on October 17 and 18 had been exhausted.
But he ruled out making that declaration, offering to hold out for the “slightest chance” of success, after speaking with Ireland’s Varadkar.
“I have received promising signals from the Taoiseach that a deal is still possible,” Tusk said.
“Of course there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up but even the slightest chance must be used.”
The change of heart prompted speculation of a compromise on the contentious issue of the Irish backstop to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.
Sterling rose sharply on international money markets in the wake of Thursday’s talks, on which the cabinet received a briefing on Friday morning.
European Union says it has agreed with the United Kingdom to intensify Brexit negotiations.