Boris Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar have agreed there is a “pathway to a possible deal” following “detailed and constructive” Brexit talks.
The prime minister and his Irish counterpart met at Thornton Manor in Wirral, Merseyside, on Thursday for what their offices billed as a “private meeting” ahead of next week’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
In a joint statement after the talks, the pair said: “The prime minister and Taoiseach have had a detailed and constructive discussion.
“Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest. They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.
“Their discussion concentrated on the challenges of customs and consent.
“They also discussed the potential to strengthen bilateral relations, including on Northern Ireland.
“They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.
“Following their discussions the Taoiseach will consult with the Taskforce 50 and the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet Michel Barnier tomorrow morning.”
Prior to the talks, Mr Varadkar tweeted pictures of the meeting. He wrote: “Looking forward to a detailed discussion to see if we can make any progress.”
A small protest quickly popped up outside of pro-EU campaigners carrying flags.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said yesterday both sides were “not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke openly about the possibility of no-deal, saying: “We want to reduce the negative effects, even if there is a disorderly Brexit, in both countries.”
Mr Johnson has unveiled new plans for the post-Brexit Irish border, having vowed to scrap the backstop arrangement agreed between Brussels and his predecessor Theresa May.
The backstop was designed as an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland regardless of the future EU-UK trade relationship.
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) October 10, 2019
Mr Johnson has called it “anti-democratic”.
But Mr Barnier has said the UK’s Irish border proposals are “not something we can accept”, and Mr Varadkar has also been cool on the plans.
He told the Irish parliament on Wednesday that Mr Johnson’s insistence that Northern Ireland must leave the EU’s customs union with the rest of the UK was blocking progress in reaching an agreement.
The two need to clear any major hurdles before next week’s gathering of 28 EU leaders to sign off a new Brexit deal or, if asked by the UK, agree on another delay.