EU sources have denied a report that the EU and UK have struck a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which included "significant" concessions by Brussels on customs checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, and on the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

One EU source said: "It's not true."

The Times of London reported that the deal marked "a critical step towards ending the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol".

The report said the EU had accepted that goods destined for Northern Ireland would be allowed to enter without routine checks, whereas goods proceeding to the south would undergo customs formalities in Northern Ireland ports.

This, the paper said, was based on the UK’s green and red lanes proposals, which formed part of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

The European Commission has proposed an "express lane" with some random checks according to the level of risk involved.

The report said the commission had conceded that the ECJ could rule on issues related to the protocol only if referred by Northern Ireland courts.

EU ambassadors were briefed by the European Commission this morning on the negotiations, which have been under way since last autumn.

According to one source: "Nothing new. Talks ongoing. Progress [is] being made but no sign of anything imminent."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this afternoon that no deal had yet been done, but noted that the agreement on customs information the two sides had reached "is very significant and very helpful".

Mr Varadkar said that he expressed his ongoing concerns at the "unilateral approach" the UK is taking to Rishi Sunak when they spoke by phone last Monday.

What is the NI Protocol?

The protocol is part of the Withdrawal Agreement - the international treaty under which the UK left the EU.

It was a compromise to prevent a hard border with checks on goods crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and the EU's Single Market.

Under the deal, Northern Ireland left the EU along with the rest of the UK.

But the British government accepted that it would stay aligned with the EU's Single Market rules for goods.

That allowed the checks to be done at Northern Ireland's ports instead of along the 300-mile land border. It has been dubbed 'The Border in the Irish Sea'.

The EU’s rules on customs and regulation of agri-food products also continue to apply to goods arriving in NI.

Senior figures have told RTÉ News in recent days that talks are continuing and that, as of late last week, there was no sign of an imminent breakthrough.

However, diplomats have said it was difficult to see discussions between EU and UK negotiators continuing to April, when the Good Friday Agreement will pass its 25th anniversary.

Sources say the European Commission has reassured member states that the solution will be found within the framework of the Protocol, and that the EU’s priorities are being respected.

"It's difficult to see it lasting until April," one EU diplomat told RTÉ News.

"So long as the commission tells us [the talks] are working, that things are going reasonably well and we're making progress and it's all within the framework of the protocol, that our key red lines are not being crossed, then people are content to let it continue.

"But member states really want this resolved as well."

One member state diplomat suggested The Times report was based on briefings designed to test the sentiment of the DUP. Another source described the report as "kite flying".

Meanwhile, the President of the European Parliament has warned there can be no renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On the eve of a visit to Dublin to mark Ireland's 50 years of EU membership, Roberta Metsola said there are "pragmatic solutions" to the impasse.

In an exclusive interview with RTÉ's News At One, the Maltese MEP, who is only the third woman to be elected President of the European Parliament, said renegotiating the protocol is not an option for the EU.

"We have reiterated our unwavering support for the protocol on several occasions and we will remain fully committed to preserving the peace on the island of Ireland and therefore renegotiating the protocol is not an option for the European Union," Ms Metsola said.

She also said that any strain on the EU/UK relationship at a time when western unity is essential "would be unfortunate".

She said that the European Parliament would like more information on talks and for the talks to be "more open" and she said she would like to see "more willingness" to be ready to find solutions "rather than hide behind catchy headlines".