Hours to find a Brexit deal: Boris Johnson and Irish PM Leo Varadkar meet face-to-face TODAY as EU’s deadline for a solution looms – but blame game is ALREADY in full swing
- Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar are holding make-or-break talks at lunchtime
- The EU has set tomorrow as deadline for getting agreement in time for summit
- Blame game is already in full swing after a senior MEP branded PM a ‘traitor’
Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar will hold ‘last chance’ Brexit talks today as the clock runs down on Brexit wrangling.
In a crucial moment, the PM and the Irish Taoiseach will meet face-to-face in Cheshire at lunchtime to try and find a way through the deadlock.
The media has been shut out of the event in a bid to maximise the chances of a breakthrough.
But hopes are not high on either side, with the Irish backstop still a major dividing line and rhetoric escalating dramatically. The EU has set tomorrow as the deadline for an outline agreement to be reached in time for a summit next week.
Mr Johnson has insisted he is still ‘cautiously, cautiously optimistic’ despite the deepening gloom. However, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt launched an extraordinary attack on Mr Johnson last night, branding him a ‘traitor’.
Boris Johnson (left in Downing Street this week) is meeting Leo Varadkar (right) for crunch talks in Cheshire later
He accused the Prime Minister of attempting to orchestrate a ‘blame game’, saying that he was ‘the real traitor’ of his countrymen. Last night European Council chief Donald Tusk twisted the knife by mocking the ‘permanent parliamentary crisis’ in the UK.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also struck a downbeat tone in a speech to the European Parliament, telling MEPs that as it stands ‘we’re not really in a position where we’re able to find an agreement’.
Technical talks on Mr Johnson’s proposed alternative for the backstop – which involves Northern Ireland staying aligned to EU regulations – seem to have stalled completely. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is meeting Michel Barnier in Brussels later, but they are said to be ‘taking stock’ rather than seeking major movement.
Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng insisted this morning there is still a ‘good chance’ to get a deal.
‘I think that we want a spirited compromise. We want to be able to make sure that the backstop has been taken away,’ he said.
He later added: ‘The reason the Prime Minister is meeting Leo Varadkar isn’t simply to have a social conversation, they are seriously focused on trying to resolve this issue and trying to get a deal on which basis we can leave the EU.’
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Today: Boris Johnson holds talks with Leo Varadkar.
Tomorrow: EU’s deadline for having a deal in place ready for next week’s summit.
October 14: Parliament is due to return for the Queen’s Speech.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels, but Mr Johnson now seems certain to boycott the event in protest at the bloc’s intransigence.
October 19: If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal.
Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will only let Mr Johnson trigger an election after an extension has been secured.
If there is a deal, it will start being rushed through Parliament immediately.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU.
November/December: An election looks inevitable.
A Government source admitted that today’s summit was critical to the prospects of any kind of Brexit deal before next week’s crunch EU meeting of leaders.
The source said: ‘It is a private meeting to allow both leaders and their teams to have detailed discussions. The Varadkar meeting is probably the last chance for a breakthrough but it doesn’t look too hopeful.
‘The EU seems to be floating potential ideas that we have already rejected, but maybe the fact they are floating ideas at all means there is a space to start talking.
‘If that’s the start of a conversation and they are willing to come our way then great. But we have made our compromises.’
EU sources yesterday suggested Brussels could be ready to table a new offer on the backstop which would effectively put a time limit on it in a last-ditch bid to salvage the talks.
The offer, currently being ‘parked’, involves giving the Northern Ireland assembly a vote on leaving the backstop, which would see the province remain in the customs union and single market.
EU sources said it formed a key plank for ‘unlocking’ a deal.
However, they stressed it would require the UK first accepting Northern Ireland has to remain in the bloc’s customs union until the moment Stormont votes to leave it – unlikely to be before 2025.
Yesterday Mr Varadkar suggested in the Irish parliament that Dublin was open to the plan.
But it was immediately shot down by the Democratic Unionist Party and Brexiteer MPs.
Downing Street is thought to be vehemently opposed to the idea as it would involve Northern Ireland remaining in the EU’s customs territory.
Guy Verhofstadt, pictured in the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday, today claimed that Boris Johnson was a ‘traitor’ to the UK