The mood music on Brexit talks may be rather gloomy but there are signs suggesting progress is still being made. As well as an agreement in principle on all the outstanding issues in the Northern Ireland protocol, a date has been set for Boris Johnson's meeting with Ursula von der Leyen. The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels on Wednesday for dinner with the European Commission president.
Is this a crunch meeting? The strong suggestion from the UK side is no. Instead, it's being billed as a 'continuing process' of talks, and the idea of it leading to a firm decision on the shape of a deal – or a decision to go for no deal – is being played down. No. 10 has also suggested today that talks could run on past the EU council summit on Thursday to later in the month.
Continuing talks is not necessarily a sign that a deal is in the offing. Neither the UK or EU wants to be blamed for a Brexit breakdown. What's more, the sense in No. 10 is that the technical talks have come as far as they can really go, so a political intervention is required. Can the EU commission president offer that? With UK officials pointing the finger of blame at Emmanuel Macron for the breakdown in talks last week, one dinner with von der Leyen is unlikely to in itself be enough.