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Johnson arrives in Dublin for talks with Varadkar today

Varadkar said today’s meeting is an opportunity for the two leaders to get to know each other better.

Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson is due to arrive in Dublin this morning for a “high stakes” meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

Later, in London, Johnson will try for a second time to trigger a general election in the UK but this move is likely to be blocked again by opposition MPs.

Johnson has not met Varadkar since taking office in July, although they have spoken on the phone twice.

Varadkar said today’s meeting is “an opportunity to get to know each other better, talk about solutions in Northern Ireland and see if there’s common ground”.

Speaking at Dublin Port yesterday, Varadkar warned that Johnson should not expect any breakthrough in talks on the future of the Irish border. 

He outlined that he will be discussing the possibility of a Northern Ireland-only backstop as a solution to the Brexit stalemate with Johnson. The Taoiseach disputed however that significant progress was being made in talks between the EU and the UK, as claimed by Johnson and several of his ministers.

If that’s what’s being said that’s a very optimistic assessment of where we stand. I don’t think it would be shared by any of the other 27 member governments.

The Taoiseach’s sentiment was shared by former MP and cabinet minister Amber Rudd who resigned from the Conservative party in response to Johnson’s handling of Brexit. 

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, Rudd accused Johnson’s government of not doing enough to secure a new deal with the EU and claimed that no formal negotiations are taking place, “just lots of conversations”. 

brexit Varadkar arriving at Dublin Port yesterday for a visit to new physical infrastructure which has been put in place to meet the requirements for customs, SPS and health checks on consignments of goods imported from or transiting the UK. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Amid the recent resignations and loss of his parliamentary majority, Varadkar questioned whether Johnson could strike a deal with the EU, noting that “Prime Minister Johnson doesn’t have a majority”.

“So I’ll be asking him how he can convince us, Ireland and the EU, that he is actually capable or has the votes to get a deal through,” he said.

On Thursday, the prime minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, also resigned as a minister and MP over a “conflict of family loyalty and the national interest”, while on Tuesday Philip Lee resigned as a member of the Conservative party saying “it was no longer possible to serve my constituents’ and country’s best interests”.

Johnson withdrew the whip from 21 Tory rebels who are unable to vote as members of the Conservative party on Tuesday, which Rudd said was an “assault on decency and democracy”.

Last week, Johnson told MPs that he would discuss with Varadkar the idea that agri-food could continue to be regulated on an all-Ireland basis. 

“We recognise that for reasons of geography and economics, agri-food is increasingly managed on a common basis across the island of Ireland. We are ready to find ways forward that recognises this reality, provided it clearly enjoys the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest,” Johnson said.

When asked about a single agricultural zone yesterday, Varadkar said that it would not be enough.

“It’s not enough on its own. I think we’d need a single Irish economic zone, or whatever you’d want to call it, to cover more than agriculture and food.”

xinhua-photos-of-the-day Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

After today’s meeting, Johnson is due to return to Westminster where MPs are set to vote again on whether to trigger an early election – a vote that is expected to fail. 

Johnson is seeking a snap election on 15 October as a way to break the deadlock over Brexit, but lawmakers last week rejected his call.

He is due to try again today, but opposition parties say they will veto that attempt, too. They want to postpone an election until the UK has secured a delay, removing the risk the UK could crash out without a deal.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested that one option would be for the government to challenge parliament’s potential delay request in court.

“It will be challenged in the courts,” Raab told Sky News.

“What we are going to do with that legislation is test very carefully what it does and doesn’t require and that’s not only the lawful thing to do, I think that’s the responsible thing to do,” Raab said.

And Johnson himself said in a letter to two Sunday newspapers that his government would “simply carry on” if his election call is turned down.

The cross-party bill – which requires the prime minister to extend the exit deadline until January unless Parliament agrees a deal with the EU by 19 October -  is set to gain royal assent.

There is also a chance that the parliament could be prorogued today until 14 October but this may happen later in the week instead.

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Adam Daly

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