Sunday 22 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'When and where Varadkar and Johnson meet proves symbolic problem for both'


Showboater: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to meet Leo Varadkar in the next few weeks. Photo: PA
Showboater: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to meet Leo Varadkar in the next few weeks. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A location has yet to be agreed for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's first meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Despite Mr Varadkar issuing an invite for the prime minister to come to Dublin, negotiations about who will travel are understood to be ongoing.

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The difficulty in organising a tête-à-tête is symbolic of where we are with Brexit.

Irish officials are working on the assumption Mr Johnson will come to Government Buildings since the meeting is at the behest of the Taoiseach. However, sources confirmed this has not yet been agreed to by Downing Street.

The timing of the meeting is also up for debate. UK media reported over the weekend it would take place this month; the Irish side believe September is more likely at this stage.

That means Mr Johnson will first meet the leaders of France and Germany as well as EU chiefs Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker.

They will be at the G7 summit in Biarritz on August 24-26. Brexit is not on the agenda of that summit but will inevitably be raised on the fringes.

Mr Johnson has said he will not enter any formal talks with the EU on Brexit unless the backstop is first dropped from the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Government is keen to frame any talks between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson as a discussion rather than a negotiation.

Both sides have diplomatic concerns about how such a meeting would play out in public, especially as the two leaders are at such loggerheads over the direction of Brexit.

The distinct lack of trust means there is a nervousness on the Irish side that Mr Johnson might try to showboat.

How could the two men stand at podiums in front of the media and speak two completely different truths?

But Mr Varadkar does want to chat with his counterpart alone and behind closed doors.

"He wants a private face-to-face with Boris so that he can get the measure of the man," a source said.

The Taoiseach has always insisted Ireland does not negotiate on Brexit because that is the job of the EU taskforce led by Michel Barnier.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said the invitation to Dublin was "for talks on Northern Ireland and Brexit".

"Their offices are in contact to agree a date for these talks in the coming weeks. Such a meeting would give both sides an opportunity to gain a better understanding of their respective positions," they said.

"As has repeatedly been made clear, the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop are not up for negotiation.

"Any discussions on changes to the Political Declaration would occur be between the UK and the EU."

Meanwhile, Mr Juncker, the outgoing EU commission president, has been stirring the pot over the weekend by saying the British will be "the big losers" in a no-deal scenario.

"We are fully prepared even though some in Britain say we are not well set up for a 'no-deal'.

"But I am not taking part in these little summer games," he said.

Irish Independent

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