herald

Friday 20 September 2019

'I'd prefer a deal', says Boris, as Leo warns of no clean break in talks

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with Boris Johnson in Dublin
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with Boris Johnson in Dublin

Hopes are rising that embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will try to reach a deal with the EU rather than be forced into delaying Brexit.

Mr Johnson toned down his "do or die" rhetoric on a visit to Ireland, saying it would be failure on all sides if a compromise cannot be achieved before October 31.

His private meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar failed to provide any breakthrough.

However, at a time when Anglo-Irish relations are in a difficult state, Government sources said there is now the basis for positive engagement.

It is understood the two leaders agreed to increase contacts in the coming weeks and are keen to meet again.

While Mr Johnson was making his way back to London, Queen Elizabeth assented to legislation designed to stop him forcing through a no-deal exit.

Amid more drama, the colourful Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, abruptly announced he will leave his influential post by the end of October.

Bravado

He has earned the enmity of many Conservative Party kingpins who, in a break with normal practice, were planning to challenge him at the next election.

Late last night, the House of Commons was suspended by the Government until October 14 - two days before a crucial EU summit where the future direction of Brexit will be decided.

In a joint statement following their meeting, Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson said "common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain".

On the steps of Government Buildings, Mr Johnson said he would "overwhelmingly prefer" to do a deal.

While this has raised hopes here of progress, it incensed hard-line Brexiteers, including Nigel Farage who said: "The Boris bravado has disappeared in Dublin."

The Brexit Party leader said Mr Johnson is now going "all out for Mrs May's deal, with Northern Ireland to be hived off from the rest of the UK".

There is growing speculation Mr Johnson is moving toward a version of the backstop originally tabled by his predecessor.

Mrs May was on the verge of agreeing that Northern Ireland could maintain regulatory alignment with the EU but the idea was torpedoed by the DUP.

The Irish Government would willingly return to the 2017 position, with sources suggesting the legal elements could easily be drawn up before Halloween.

The Conservative Party has now lost its working majority, meaning the support of the DUP is less relevant.

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted yesterday that a system which treated the North differently from the rest of the UK would be "anti-democratic and unconstitutional".

She said Mr Johnson had "already ruled out a Northern Ireland-only backstop".

In his meeting with Mr Varadkar, Mr Johnson raised the prospect of an all-island zone for animal and plant safety to remove the need for checks on livestock crossing the Border, but according to the EU this would only address around 30pc of border checks.

Checks near the Border would still be required to ensure the enforcement of EU laws relating to customs, VAT and other production standards.

Mr Johnson said that he understood the "conundrum" Brexit has caused for Ireland and the "sensitivities of the Border".

Mr Varadkar said "the story of Brexit will not end if the United Kingdom leaves on October 31 or even January 31".

"There is no such thing as a clean break. No such thing as just getting it done," he said.

Mr Varadkar added that even after a no-deal Brexit "the only items on the agenda will be citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the Irish Border".

"In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us."

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