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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Leo Varadkar/PA

Brexit talks resume in Brussels after 'constructive meeting' between Varadkar and Johnson

The talks will indicate whether discussions between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Boris Johnson paved way for a potential breakthrough.

UK BREXIT SECRETARY Stephen Barclay is holding key talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier today as the chance of a breakthrough on securing a withdrawal deal appear somewhat more likely. 

The Brussels meeting comes in the wake of discussions between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson after which both leaders declared they could “see a pathway” to a possible agreement.

Barclay’s talks look likely to give the clearest indication of whether there has been a significant thawing of relations between London and the EU after a week of abrupt exchanges.

Such a move could lead to the start of so-called intensive “tunnel” negotiations in the coming days ahead of the crunch EU heads of government summit on 17 and 18 October.

The unexpectedly cordial atmosphere of the meeting between the two leaders led to speculation of a possible compromise on the contentious issue of the Northern Ireland border backstop.

When asked about the state-of-play this morning, Varadkar said: “I think at this stage probable the less said the better.”

He said the focus today very much switches to Brussels where Barclay is meeting Barnier. 

“I’d anticipate that will lead to some more detailed proposals being laid down and then the possibility for talks to enter the proverbial tunnel,” he said. 

Sterling rose sharply on international money markets in the wake of the talks.

After more than two hours of “detailed and constructive” discussions at a country manor on the Wirral yesterday, the two leaders said it was in “everybody’s interest” to get an agreement which would allow the UK to leave with a deal.

Varadkar said he hoped the progress they had made would be “sufficient” to enable intensive negotiations to resume in Brussels ahead of next week’s crucial EU summit.

“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 a slip between cup and lip,” he 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 31 of October, so I would say a short pathway rather than a long one, but it’s impossible to predict that for sure.

I think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement.

Varadkar refused to be drawn on any “concessions” made by either side, while UK Government sources refused to be drawn on media reports here suggesting “significant movement” by the UK.

Tory former chancellor and arch-Brexiteer Lord Norman Lamont said he wanted to know what any UK concessions were.

He told the BBC: “No, I am not worried. I have to know what the concessions are.

“It does look as though there is a change of mood.”

He added: “Maybe there is some change on the mechanism whereby the deal is approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

“Maybe there will be an opting-out mechanism rather than an opting-in mechanism.”

Without a deal, Johnson will face demands from opposition parties to comply with the so-called Benn Act which would require him to request a three month Brexit delay if there is no agreement by 19 October.

The PM has said while he will abide by the law, he is determined to leave on the Halloween deadline of 31 October come what may.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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