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Glimmer of hope? Brexit negotiators to discuss upbeat UK-Irish meeting | Politics News

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Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is meeting Michel Barnier to explore whether upbeat talks between Boris Johnson and Ireland’s Prime Minister can lead to breakthrough and salvage a Brexit deal.

At a meeting in Brussels, Mr Barclay and the EU’s chief negotiator are assessing whether there are grounds to move forward, after Mr Johnson and Leo Varadkar said they could “see a pathway to a possible deal”.

After his talks with Mr Johnson, Mr 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.

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson inside Thornton Manor Hotel, near Birkenhead
Image:
Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson inside Thornton Manor Hotel, near Birkenhead

Mr Johnson almost certainly needs the EU leaders gathering in Brussels on October 17 and 18 to sign off on an agreement in order to be able to take the UK out of the European Union on 31 October with a deal.

The upbeat mood is a big turnaround from three days ago, when Downing Street said a deal was “essentially impossible” after a call between the prime minister and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Irish Times reports that there has been “significant movement” from the British side on customs, which could mean a revival of the backstop or a customs border in the Irish sea.

Speaking to reporters at Liverpool Airport before his return to Dublin, Mr Varadkar said while there were still issues to be resolved, he believed it was possible to meet the Halloween deadline.

“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.

Mr Varadkar refused to be drawn on any concessions made by either side, while British sources refused to be drawn on the Irish Times report suggesting “significant movement” by the UK.

The meeting between the two prime ministers at 19th century Thornton Manor – now a luxury wedding venue – was seen as a last chance for Mr Johnson to get his hopes of an agreement back on track.

In a joint statement, the two leaders said they would 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.

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.

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They have 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 unexpectedly upbeat statement after the Johnson-Varadkar talks came 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 No. 10 sources accused Mr Varadkar of backtracking on previous commitments to try to find a deal and of refusing to negotiate.

On Wednesday, 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 well away from the border, were based on a system “that hasn’t been properly developed, that hasn’t been tested”.

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