Johnson and Varadkar can ‘see pathway’ to Brexit deal
●Irish premier hopes negotiations will now resume in Brussels ahead of summit
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