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Brexit hope as Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar say they are on ‘pathway’ to agreement by Halloween

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Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar hailed a Brexit breakthrough last night following an extraordinary summit on Merseyside.

After three hours of talks at a country manor on the Wirral, the Prime Minister and his Irish counterpart said they could see a ‘pathway to a possible deal’.

Mr Varadkar, who has long been seen as the roadblock to an agreement, added that he even believed a deal could be ‘done by the end of October’.

He described the meeting – which included more than 90 minutes where the two leaders negotiated without officials – as ‘very positive’ and said he was ‘absolutely convinced’ Mr Johnson wanted an agreement.

In the wake of the apparent breakthrough, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay travelled to Brussels for a crunch breakfast meeting today with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Both sides hope that if the meeting goes well, it will lead to the so-called ‘tunnel’ of intensive negotiations in the coming days – ahead of a crunch EU summit next Thursday.

After three hours of talks at a country manor on the Wirral, the Prime Minister and his Irish counterpart said they could see a ‘pathway to a possible deal’

However, both the British and Irish governments were tight-lipped about the concessions that had been offered to find a compromise. Even Cabinet members were not immediately briefed on the details. 

It was claimed there had been ‘very significant movement’ from the British side on the controversial issue of customs checks, but this was later disputed by a Cabinet source.

And Mr Varadkar warned that negotiations on a deal could yet collapse, saying: ‘There’s many a slip between cup and lip and lots of things that are not in my control.’

The summit, at Thornton Manor in Merseyside, was attended by only the PM’s most senior officials, including chief adviser Dominic Cummings and Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill. At one point, the two leaders even took a walk in the grounds as they strove to find a way through the impasse.

Mr Varadkar, who has long been seen as the roadblock to an agreement, added that he even believed a deal could be 'done by the end of October'

Mr Varadkar, who has long been seen as the roadblock to an agreement, added that he even believed a deal could be ‘done by the end of October’

When they emerged, they issued a statement, hailing a ‘detailed and constructive’ discussion, and saying: ‘Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest. 

They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.’ Michael Gove described the talks as ‘very encouraging’, adding: ‘I hope the optimistic and constructive approach that both sides showed can result in more progress.’

Mr Varadkar and UK officials voiced hopes that Mr Barnier would agree to take the negotiations into the ‘tunnel’, but there were fears the Frenchman would refuse to countenance anything that might dilute the sanctity of the single market.

And Eurosceptic MPs last night warned that Mr Johnson would face defeat at Westminster if he offered any further significant concessions. The breakthrough came as:

  • Jeremy Corbyn came under mounting pressure from pro-Remain MPs to continue blocking an election so a second referendum can be forced through;
  • Ireland’s central bank warned that 73,000 jobs could be at risk in the Republic in the event of a No Deal;
  • Senior Tories stepped up work on a manifesto that will see Mr Johnson pledge to leave the EU ‘within weeks’ if a deal is not secured in the coming days;
  • Details emerged of a cross-party plot to secure a second referendum, with ringleader Hilary Benn suggesting MPs could try to hijack a special sitting of Parliament next Saturday to drive it through;
  • Outgoing chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies broke with official advice to warn that a No Deal could lead to shortages of medicines and even put lives at risk.

Yesterday’s summit was billed as the last chance to achieve a breakthrough, following a torrid week in which Mr Johnson had a bust-up with Angela Merkel and was accused of bad faith by EU president Donald Tusk.

No 10 selected 19th-century Thornton Manor – now a luxury wedding venue – as a ‘neutral’ venue for the negotiations and tried to cloak the talks in secrecy.

Mr Varadkar has been the most hardline supporter of the so-called Irish backstop, which Mr Johnson has pledged to scrap, but with the UK and the EU potentially just three weeks from a damaging No Deal, the two men appeared to set aside their previous positions in an attempt to find a compromise.

Mr Varadkar warned that negotiations on a deal could yet collapse, saying: 'There's many a slip between cup and lip and lots of things that are not in my control.'

 Mr Varadkar warned that negotiations on a deal could yet collapse, saying: ‘There’s many a slip between cup and lip and lots of things that are not in my control.’

To the surprise of aides, the two leaders banished officials for almost two hours as they talked through potential ideas – and held frank talks on what would be acceptable to their parliaments and voters.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Varadkar struck a remarkably upbeat tone, describing the talks as ‘very promising’.

‘I think it is possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty agreed, to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion and to have that done by the end of October,’ he added.

Mr Varadkar added: ‘In terms of concessions, I don’t think this should be seen in the context of who’s making concessions or who the winners or losers are.’

The Taoiseach insisted the new plan would meet Ireland’s key objective that there would be ‘no customs border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith warned that Mr Johnson would be unable to get a deal through Parliament if he gave ground on customs. 

He said: ‘This deal as it stands is the absolute limit of what is acceptable. The Prime Minister will be very heavily judged if he gives way – he simply cannot give in on customs.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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