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Irish PM ‘now absolutely convinced’ Johnson wants Brexit deal

by Ace Damon
Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson inside Thornton Manor Hotel, near Birkenhead

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is "now absolutely convinced" that the United Kingdom wants a deal on Brexit – which is "possible" until October 31 – after talks with Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister and his Irish colleague met at Thornton Manor in Wirral, Merseyside, about what their offices had announced as a "private meeting" ahead of next week's summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

Image:
The two premieres met at a wedding venue

Speaking after the talks, Varadkar declined to give details of his meeting – or which proposals were discussed – but offered an optimistic assessment.

"I had a very good meeting today with the Prime Minister and our teams – very positive and very promising," he told reporters at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

"I am now absolutely convinced that Ireland and Great Britain want an agreement, this is in the interests of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the EU as a whole.

"And I see a way to a deal in the coming weeks."

The Irish Prime Minister admitted that there are still issues to be "fully resolved" – around the consent of Northern Ireland voters to post-Brexit agreements as well as customs checks.

But he added: "I hope what happened today will be enough to allow the negotiations to resume in Brussels."

Varadkar emphasized that all sides want a deal between the UK and the EU at next week's European Council summit.

He said: "It is possible for us to reach an agreement, to have an agreed treaty, for the UK to leave the EU in an orderly manner and to do so by the end of October.

"But there are many differences between the cup and the lips and many things that are not under my control."

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Earlier, British and Irish authorities issued a joint statement after what they described as a "detailed and constructive discussion".

It said: "Both (Mr. Johnson and Mr. Varadkar) continue to believe that an agreement is in everyone's interest. They agreed that they could find a way to a possible agreement.

"Their discussion focused on the challenges of customs and consent. They also discussed the potential for strengthening bilateral relations, including in Northern Ireland.

"They agreed to reflect more on their discussions and that the authorities would continue to be heavily involved in them."

Following the discussion, Varadkar will consult the EU Brexit task force, while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday morning.

The pound rose after the pair's joint statement, rising more than half a cent to nearly $ 1.23 against the US dollar.

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A small protest organized by pro-EU activists was seen outside the Thornton Manor site when the two men met.

The conference and event center was already best known for hosting Coleen Rooney's 21st birthday party, as well as the wedding venue of TV host Paddy McGuinness and his wife Christine Martin.

Johnson and Varadkar's statement seemed to offer a more hopeful verdict on the chances of a Brexit deal at the EU summit next week than Barnier presented on Wednesday.

The EU official had told the European Parliament that the United Kingdom and the EU "were not really in a position where we could find agreement".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Paris to talk to French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday before the EU summit.

Merkel spoke openly about the possibility of a Brexit without agreement on Thursday, saying: "We want to reduce the negative effects, even if there is a disordered Brexit in both countries."

And Macron also spoke of the UK possibly leaving the EU on October 31 without a withdrawal agreement.

"If they want to make a move compatible with what could be accepted by the 27, that's fine," he said.

"If they do not want to do something or something that is not accepted, they will have to take responsibility."

Johnson issued new plans for the post-Brexit Irish border after promising to annul the combined stopping agreement between Brussels and its predecessor Theresa May.

The background, criticized as "undemocratic" by the prime minister, was designed as a secure mechanism to avoid a difficult border on the island of Ireland, regardless of the future EU-UK trade relationship.

Barnier said the Irish border proposals in the UK "are not something we can accept," and Varadkar has also been legal in the plans.

He told the Irish parliament on Wednesday that Johnson's insistence that Northern Ireland should leave the EU customs union with the rest of the United Kingdom was impeding progress in reaching an agreement.

Johnson promised to remove the UK from the EU on October 31 "to do or die".

However, legislation passed by opposition lawmakers last month will force him to seek an extension of the Article 50 period if he fails to reach an agreement with Brexit – or if the House of Commons explicitly approves a Brexit without agreement – by 19 December. October.

Parliament rarely meets on the Saturday of the day following the conclusion of the EU summit the day before.

Johnson has repeatedly promised not to postpone Brexit until the end of this month.

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