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Positive meeting but ‘significant gaps’ remain

Under a portrait of Michael Collins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson conferred in Dublin earlier today. photo.


By Anthony Neeson

The first meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been described by both governments as “positive.”

Mr. Johnson met with the taoiseach at Government Buildings in Dublin this morning, this after a turbulent week for the prime minister who lost his Commons majority, having withdrawn the whip from 21 Conservative MPs who rebelled against a no-deal Brexit.

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With another MP joining the Liberal Democrats and the resignation of a cabinet minister, the DUP’s influence over the British government has waned considerably.

With parliament suspended for a month ahead of the October 31 deadline to reach a withdrawal agreement with the EU, there was speculation ahead of Monday morning’s meeting in that the Northern Ireland-only backstop could be back in play as part of the UK’s Brexit deal with Brussels.

This was the original deal with Theresa May’s government and the EU back in December 2017 which was scuppered by the DUP who feared what they saw as a border down the Irish Sea and the tying of Northern Ireland into the Irish and EU economy.

The DUP’s rejection of that deal led to the UK-wide backstop that was rejected three times by the House of Commons and led to Theresa May’s resignation from the prime minister’s job.

Last week, Mr. Johnson suggested that he was in favor of an all-island food standards zone as part of a Brexit solution.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Leo Varadkar said: “In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us.

“All it does is kick the can down the road for another fourteen months; another fourteen months of uncertainty for business, another fourteen months of uncertainty for people north and south of the border. So that’s not an option that we find attractive at all.”

He added: “We are open to all alternatives legally workable, but we have not received such to date.

“The Good Friday Agreement is the best example to show that old foes can come together and as co-guarantors of that agreement.”

Prime Minister Johnson said he wanted to get a deal but that the UK was prepared for a no-deal.

“I’ve seen the old border and how absolutely vital it is we keep the open border, on the plan, it’s fairly obvious, we need to find a way of ensuring that the UK is not kept locked in backstop arrangement while giving Ireland the assurance that it needs.

“Whether it’s electronic pre-clearance, or concept of the unity of island for agri-foods and other ideas we’ll bring forward to address the full range.”

A joint statement following the meeting said it had been “positive and constructive.”

“They spoke privately over breakfast for more than half an hour before joining their delegations for another half hour meeting,” the statement said.

“While they agreed that the discussions are at an early stage, common ground was established in some areas, although significant gaps remain.”

The statement added: “Ireland and the UK are committed to securing an agreement between the European Union and the UK, and recognize that negotiations take place through the Brussels Task Force.”