Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar say they 'see pathway' to Brexit deal
Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar have agreed there is a “pathway to a possible Brexit deal”, surprising sceptical EU officials with their upbeat assessment after more than three hours of private talks.
The British prime minister hosted his Irish counterpart at a country house in the north-west of England for talks on Thursday that had been expected to break down. But when the pair emerged from discussions they painted a more optimistic picture, suggesting the Brexit logjam could be broken by the end of the month.
The pair issued a positive joint statement, although Varadkar said afterwards that while he believed the outline of a deal would be possible in time for the crunch summit of EU leaders next week, serious challenges remained and there was “many a slip between cup and lip”.
The relatively warm words from the taoiseach came just days after he said finding an agreement would be “very difficult”, suggesting Johnson would have to move on the issue of customs and how Northern Ireland consented to the Brexit plans.
Downing Street declined to comment on whether Johnson had shifted, but any concessions to the EU could prove problematic for the prime minister as he seeks the support of Eurosceptic hardliners and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) in getting his deal through parliament.
European officials were also reluctant to publicly comment on the significance of the talks in Wirral, with one diplomat saying the two sides would have to work nights to reach a successful outcome. “Twenty-three days for a deal,” the diplomat said. “Ambitious. And that doesn’t take into account implementing it in the UK.”
There were also suggestions that both sides were keen to cast the talks in a positive light to avoid being held responsible for their failure.
With speculation rampant over the detail of the discussions, Varadkar will now brief the EU27 negotiating teams led by Michel Barnier about whether sufficient progress has been made for in-depth talks to start before next Thursday’s summit.
In a joint statement, Dublin and London said: “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.”