John­son and Varad­kar can ‘see path­way’ to Brexit deal

●Ir­ish pre­mier hopes ne­go­ti­a­tions will now re­sume in Brus­sels ahead of sum­mit

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY WAT­SON

Boris John­son and Ir­ish pre­mier Leo Varad­kar have said they can “see a path­way” to a pos­si­ble Brexit deal. Fol­low­ing more than two hours of talks at a coun­try manor on the Wir­ral, the two lead­ers said they be­lieved a deal was “in ev­ery­body’s in­ter­ests”.

In a joint state­ment, they said they would now “re­flect fur­ther” on their dis­cus­sions while their of­fi­cials would con­tinue to “en­gage in­ten­sively”. “Both con­tinue to be­lieve a deal is in ev­ery­body’s in­ter­est. They agreed that they could see a path­way to a pos­si­ble deal,” the state­ment said.

“They agreed to re­flect fur­ther on their dis­cus­sions and that of­fi­cials would con­tinue to en­gage in­ten­sively on them.”

The meet­ing at the 19th-cen­tury Thornton Manor was seen as a last chance for Mr John­son to save his hopes of get­ting agree­ment on a Brexit deal ahead of next week’s cru­cial EU sum­mit. In their state­ment,

the two lead­ers said their dis­cus­sions had con­cen­trated on the “chal­lenges” of fu­ture cus­toms ar­range­ments and “con­sent” in Mr John­son’s Brexit blue­print.

The Ir­ish and other EU gov­ern­ments have ob­jected to pro­pos­als to take North­ern Ire­land out of the EU cus­toms union – along with the rest of the UK – mean­ing the re­turn of cus­toms checks on the is­land of Ire­land.

They also voiced strong con­cern about pro­pos­als in the plan for the new ar­range­ments to re­quire the con­sent of the Stor­mont As­sem­bly, ef­fec­tively hand­ing a veto to the DUP.

The state­ment said Mr Varad­kar will now con­sult with Brus­sels while Brexit Sec­re­tary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU’S chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier to­day.

Mr Varad­kar later told a press pack that he had a “very good meet­ing” with the Prime Min­is­ter, adding: “I am now ab­so­lutely con­vinced that both Ire­land and Bri­tain want there to be an agree­ment that’s in the in­ter­ests of Ire­land, the United King­dom and Eu­rope as a whole.”

He said that he sees “a path­way to­wards an agree­ment in the com­ing weeks”, adding that there are is­sues yet to be re­solved.

The Taoiseach added: “I think it is pos­si­ble for us to come to an agree­ment, to have a treaty to al­low the UK to leave the EU in an or­derly fash­ion, and to have that done by the end of October, but there’s many in the slip be­tween cup and lip.” Speak­ing at Liver­pool Air­port, Mr Varad­kar said the main is­sues re­main en­sur­ing that any long-term agree­ment has the con­sent of the peo­ple of North­ern Ire­land and en­sur­ing no cus­toms bor­der on the is­land of Ire­land

He said: “What I would hope that what’s hap­pened to­day would be suf­fi­cient to al­low ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­sume in Brus­sels.”

When asked how long the “path­way” to a deal is, Mr Varad­kar said: “In terms of how long it will take, I can’t pre­dict that with any cer­tainty, but I think all sides would like there to be an agree­ment next week at the coun­cil if pos­si­ble.

“Ob­vi­ously there’s a fur­ther dead­line af­ter that which is the 31st of October, so I would say a short path­way rather than a long one, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict that for sure.”

The cau­tiously up­beat state­ment comes at the end of a week marked by ac­ri­mo­nious ex­changes be­tween Lon­don, Dublin and Brus­sels in which the ne­go­ti­a­tions ap­peared close to col­lapse.

Brief­ings by anony­mous No 10 sources ac­cused Mr Varad­kar of back­track­ing on pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments to try to find a deal and of re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate.

And fol­low­ing a heated tele­phone call be­tween Mr John­son and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel on Tues­day, they claimed the EU was mak­ing it “es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble” for Bri­tain to leave with a deal.

Time re­mains tight, how­ever, if there is to be an agree­ment in place for EU lead­ers to sign off at their sum­mit on 17 and 18 October which would en­able Mr John­son to take Bri­tain out of the EU on 31 October with a deal.

Yes­ter­day, Mr Barnier told the Eu­ro­pean Parliament there was still no ba­sis for a fresh agree­ment.

He said the UK had yet to put for­ward an “op­er­a­tional, legally bind­ing so­lu­tion” to re­place the North­ern Ire­land back­stop - in­tended to pre­vent the re­turn of a hard bor­der with the Re­pub­lic.

And he said Mr John­son’s pro­pos­als for a trusted traders scheme, with any phys­i­cal cus­toms checks tak­ing place away from the bor­der, were based on a sys­tem “that hasn’t been prop­erly de­vel­oped or tested. If there is no agree­ment, Mr John­son will face de­mands from op­po­si­tion par­ties to com­ply with the so-called Benn Act which would re­quire him to go back to Brus­sels and re­quest a fur­ther Brexit de­lay.

Boris John­son and Leo Varad­kar take a stroll at Thornton Manor Ho­tel, Birken­head, where they held a meet­ing that was seen as a last chance for agree­ment

Boris John­son and Ir­ish pre­mier Leo Varad­kar’s meet­ing was seen as a last chance for the Prime Min­is­ter to get an agree­ment on Brexit be­fore the end of October

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