Monday 15 October 2018

Juncker holds talks with Varadkar minutes before meeting May for key Brexit talks

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Arj Singh, David Young and Shaun Connolly

Jean Claude Juncker has held talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar minutes before meeting Theresa May for key Brexit discussions, amid reports of a major compromise to ensure there is no hard Irish border.

The European Commission president spoke to Mr Varadkar ahead of a lunch with the UK Prime Minister which could have a crucial bearing on whether Brexit talks move on to trade and a transition deal by next year.

Downing Street has responded to reports of a draft agreement that there will be "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by insisting the UK's "territorial and economic integrity will be protected".

Movement on the border issue is required for Mrs May to get Ireland's agreement to move on to critical talks on a trade and transition deal at the European Council summit of EU leaders on December 14-15.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at Government Buildings in Dublin to attend an emergency cabinet meeting on Brexit. Credit: Laura Hutton/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at Government Buildings in Dublin to attend an emergency cabinet meeting on Brexit. Credit: Laura Hutton/PA Wire

The PM's talks with Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk on Monday could have a crucial bearing on whether she is able to secure the necessary "sufficient progress" at the Brussels summit.

Read more: Draft proposal on the future of Irish border 'close to status quo'

Brexit Secretary David Davis has acknowledged it is an "important day".

The two sides have appeared to be moving closer on the divorce bill and future citizens' rights but the Irish Government made clear ahead of talks that the border issue - the third area where Brussels is demanding progress - remained unresolved.

Ahead of the meetings in Brussels, Mrs May's official spokesman told a regular Westminster briefing: "The PM has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected."

Responding directly to questions about the report of agreement on "regulatory alignment" by RTE, he said: "RTE also reported this morning we were holding a Cabinet meeting and I missed that if it occurred."

European Parliament chief Brexit official Guy Verhofstadt, left, and Member of European Parliament Elmer Brock, right (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Parliament chief Brexit official Guy Verhofstadt, left, and Member of European Parliament Elmer Brock, right (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)

Mrs May smiled and shook hands with Mr Juncker as she arrived in Brussels but did not respond to reporters' questions.

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