Monday 21 October 2019

'Time is tight' - fresh Brexit talks between Varadkar and Johnson on cards before EU summit

Push for talks before EU Summit on October 17

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Government Buildings in Dublin during a previous meeting. Photo: Getty
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Government Buildings in Dublin during a previous meeting. Photo: Getty

Philip Ryan and Hugh O'Connell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is seeking a meeting with UK prime minister Boris Johnson for this week, as he warned that "time is tight" to secure a Brexit deal.

Mr Varadkar said that plan put forward last week by Mr Johnson to replace the backstop does not form the basis for deeper negotiations with the EU - but said there was still "plenty of time" for further proposals to be brought forward. However, he later claimed that "time is tight" to secure a deal ahead of a European Council summit on October 17-18.

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Speaking at a Fine Gael fundraising dinner in Dublin last night, Mr Varadkar refused to be drawn on setting an absolute deadline for a meeting, but said that Friday was "reasonable" before adding that an extra 24 or 48 hours could be found if needed.

Asked about the prospects of reaching a Brexit deal, he said: "It's possible at the European Council summit in two weeks. But the position as of today is that the European Union, including Ireland, doesn't feel that the proposals put forward by Prime Minister Johnson yet form the basis for deeper negotiations.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson dealt Brexit deal blow as Brussels push back talks on proposal

"But there is plenty of time for the UK government to put forward further proposals and we're in the process of trying to arrange a meeting between me and Prime Minister Johnson next week."

Mr Varadkar said that the EU would agree to an extension "if there's a realistic prospect of a deal during that extension period".

Mr Varadkar last week said that Johnson's plan would create two borders on the island of Ireland and is not supported by the majority of people in Northern Ireland.

READ MORE: Jody Corcoran: 'High-stakes gambler Varadkar goes all in and rolls the dice on our future'

The Democratic Unionist Party, which supports Mr Johnson's proposal, reacted angrily to his comments. DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Mr Varadkar of "riding roughshod" over unionists after he suggested the Johnson offer was flawed because it gave her party a veto over the Border.

It emerged last week that Mr Johnson may be prepared to ask for a deadline extension if a deal had not been reached by the end of the month.

Boris Johnson meets Leo Varadkar. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

The commitment contained in a submission made to Scotland's 'Court of Sessions' on behalf of Mr Johnson seemed to contradict his claim he would rather be found "dead in a ditch" than remain in EU beyond the Halloween deadline.

However, it emerged yesterday that Mr Johnson may seek the assistance of Hungry to prevent an extension of the Brexit deadline. EU sources last Friday said that senior British ministers had reached out to the Hungarian government for assurances that it would use its veto to torpedo any request for a delay.

READ MORE: Dan O'Brien: 'Budget preparations bedevilled by unprecedented uncertainty'

An Article 50 extension must be agreed by all 27 other EU leaders.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban is said to be sympathetic to Mr Johnson's plight - but it is unlikely he would break rank with other EU leaders to support a country leaving the union. It has also been suggested Mr Johnson will send a letter seeking an extension as he is required by law, but use other forms of communication or contact to block any extension.

Mr Johnson has said he "will obey the law" but will also leave on October 31, without specifying how he would achieve the apparently contradictory goals - fuelling speculation that he had identified a loophole to get around the Benn Act which requires him to seek an extension.

Sunday Independent

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