Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar say they ‘see pathway’ to Brexit deal | Politics


Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar have agreed they can see a “pathway to a possible Brexit deal” but warned there were still challenges ahead if an agreement was to be struck at next week’s EU summit.

The prime minister hosted his Irish counterpart for a private encounter at a country house in Wirral in the north-west of England, which they described as a “detailed and constructive discussion”.

“Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest. They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal,” a statement said.

“Their discussion concentrated on the challenges of customs and consent.

Counties and customs

Inside the EU, both Ireland and Northern Ireland are part of the single market and customs union so share the same regulations and standards, allowing a soft or invisible border between the two.

Britain’s exit from the EU – taking Northern Ireland with it – risks a return to a hard or policed border. The only way to avoid this post-Brexit is for regulations on both sides to remain more or less the same in key areas including food, animal welfare, medicines and product safety.

The ‘backstop’ in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was intended to address this – stating that if no future trade agreement could be reached between the EU and the UK, then rules and regulations would stay as they are. This has been rejected by Brexit supporters as a ‘trap’ to keep the UK in the EU’s customs union, which would prevent the UK striking its own independent trade deals. 

There are an estimated 72m road vehicle crossings a year between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and about 14% of those crossings are consignments of goods, some of which may cross the border several times before they reach a consumer. Brexit supporters say this can be managed by doing checks on goods away from the border, but critics say it will be difficult to police this without any physical infrastructure like border posts of cameras, which could raise tensions in the divided communities of Ireland. 

Interactive: A typical hour in the life of the Irish border


Photograph: Design Pics Inc/Design Pics RF

“They also discussed the potential to strengthen bilateral relations, including on Northern Ireland.”

There was no further detail on how the two sides could come to a compromise, but it will revive some hope for Johnson about the possibility of a deal at next week’s EU summit.

The meeting, in a manor house half an hour from Liverpool, lasted more than three hours.

The key stumbling blocks to a deal for Ireland have been Johnson’s proposal to take Northern Ireland out of the EU customs union on Brexit day, and his plan to give the defunct Stormont assembly the final say on whether the region should also stay aligned to EU rules on goods and agrifood.

Earlier this week, Varadkar said he thought it would be “very difficult” to secure an agreement by the time EU leaders meet next Thursday, but all efforts were focused on doing so because the stakes were so high.

The taoiseach also said the UK had “repudiated” the previous deal negotiated with Theresa May’s government to ensure no hard border re-emerged on the island of Ireland because of Brexit. The British had “sort of put half of that now back on the table, and are saying that’s a concession. And of course it isn’t, really.”



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