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Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson say they can 'see a pathway to a possible deal'

Their discussions concentrated on ‘the challenges of customs and consent’.

Leo Varadkar met with Boris Johnson this lunchtime.
Leo Varadkar met with Boris Johnson this lunchtime.

Updated Oct 10th 2019, 3:27 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have said they “can see a pathway to a possible deal”. 

Varadkar and Johnson had a “private one-on-one meeting”  in Cheshire this afternoon in a last-ditch effort to break the  Brexit deadlock as the departure deadline looms and progress with the EU falters.

The meeting is understood to have been three hours long.

In a joint statement, the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister said they had a “detailed and constructive discussion”.

Their discussions concentrated on “the challenges of customs and consent” as well as the future relationship between the two countries.

The statement continued: 

Both continue to believe a deal is in everybody’s interest. They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.
They also discussed the potential to strengthen bilateral relations, including on Northern Ireland.

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

Following their discussions, the Taoiseach and Irish officials will now consult with and brief the EU Task Force so as to explore whether there is a basis for more intense negotiations  with the task force and the British side. 

This will also be a matter discussed between the UK Brexit Secretary and Michel Barnier who are meeting tomorrow morning.

With the crucial EU summit in Brussels starting in a week, the chance of Johnson securing a new Withdrawal Agreement is looking increasingly unlikely.

Varadkar acknowledged ahead of today’s discussion that it will be “very difficult” to secure a deal by next week.

Johnson wants to keep Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the EU than the rest of the UK on rules on goods and agriculture but remove it from the current customs union.

But Varadkar is opposed to the Republic being in a different customs union from the north.

IMG_4352 Varadkar and Johnson say they can see a pathway to a Brexit deal.

‘Great difficulty’ 

Yesterday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there was still no basis for a fresh agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.

He said they had yet to see any “operational, legally binding solution” to the issue of the backstop ahead of next week’s European Council meeting.

Johnson’s “two borders” proposals, he said, were based on a system “that hasn’t been properly developed, that hasn’t been tested”.

The downbeat assessment from Barnier was echoed by the Taoiseach, who said the PM was installing an obstacle to progress by insisting that Northern Ireland must leave the customs union with the rest of the UK.

“That’s their position at the moment and that’s one that is a great difficulty for us,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil. 

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“As far as the Irish government is concerned, we do want a deal, we’re willing to work hard to get a deal, to work until the last moment to get a deal, but certainly not at any cost.”

Johnson must bring back a deal before 19 October if he is to avoid a clash over the Benn Act, which aims to prevent a no-deal departure.

IMG_4358 As the Brexit deadline looms, Varadkar has indicated that the time in which a deal can be struck is tight.

The legislation orders the PM to ask for a delay to Article 50 until the end of January if MPs do not approve a deal before that date.

But he has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay, while insisting that he will abide by the law.

Johnson is planning an emergency Saturday sitting of Parliament following the summit, to be held on 19 October, according to government sources.

It is thought the Prime Minister could use the occasion to force a showdown with MPs determined to block a no-deal Brexit.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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