News 10 october — 14:10

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar to meet in last roll of Brexit dice

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to meet his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar on Thursday, as both leaders seek to roll the dice one last time in the hope of breaking the Brexit deadlock, Euronews reports.

Their meeting comes three weeks to the day before the UK is due to leave the EU, with no deal in sight.

It is expected to take place in the northwest of England, behind closed doors and away from the media, and follows a phone conversation between the two leaders earlier this week.

Neither side is playing up expectations of a breakthrough. Varadkar has said achieving a deal will be “extremely difficult”. Johnson’s stance appears more positive: the prime minister tweeted to say he was “still cautiously, cautiously optimistic”.

The reality is that there is a yawning gulf between the British government’s position, and that of Ireland and the EU. Talks in Brussels all but broke down this week amid a bout of acrimony.

The Irish prime minister has since told parliament in Dublin his government has “grave difficulty” with the UK’s plan to pull Northern Ireland out of the EU’s customs union without the consent of its people – a majority of whom opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

Under Boris Johnson’s plan for a revised divorce deal, the “backstop” – which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU – would be scrapped. Instead, the whole of the UK – including Northern Ireland – would leave.

Dublin and the EU27 oppose customs checks anywhere on the island of Ireland. They say the UK’s proposals for an automated system are unproven and cannot provide a cast-iron guarantee for an open border in the same way as the backstop.

The British want the EU to compromise over customs, arguing that they have given ground in accepting that Northern Ireland would remain under single market rules for goods and agri-food products.

But Dublin, with EU backing, opposes the UK’s plan whereby the arrangement would be subject to approval every four years from Northern Ireland’s elected authorities. Many among the business and farming communities in the North have also castigated Johnson’s plan as unworkable and damaging.

Hopes are not high that the meeting between Johnson and Varadkar will bring a meeting of minds. It comes a week before a European Council summit when any deal would need to be signed off by EU27 leaders.

The British government continues to insist the UK will leave the EU on October 31. The British parliament – which has passed a law designed to force another delay in the absence of a deal – will hold an emergency session on October 19, its first Saturday sitting since 1982.

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