Taoiseach and May discuss Brexit ‘overall state of play’ in Dublin
Private dinner meeting described as ‘warm’ by aides also focused on stalled NI assembly
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and UK prime minister Theresa May in Farmleigh House, Dublin Photograph: AFP/Maxwells/Getty
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May discussed Brexit and Northern Ireland at a private dinner in Farmleigh House in Dublin last night at an occasion described by aides as “warm”, in contrast to some of their previous meetings.
Irish sources said that Mr Varadkar and Mrs May discussed the continuing absence of an administration in the North and also the “overall state of play” on Brexit, but were tight-lipped about any conclusions.
Irish officials stressed that the dinner in no way involved “negotiations” on Brexit or the backstop, stressing that negotiations take place in Brussels between the EU’s negotiating team led by Michel Barnier and the UK government team.
The dinner was also attended by senior officials from Downing St, including the prime minister’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell and chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins.
Common travel area
British reports suggested that they discussed the backstop, but Irish government sources disputed this, saying that the talks focussed on the arrangements for the common travel area between the two jurisdictions.
“They met to compare notes on a number of issues including the work of their respective departments,” a spokesman said,
Officials in Dublin had played down expectations for the meeting, which was held at Downing St’s request and said that the two leaders would discuss the prospects for a resuscitation of the power-sharing institutions in Stormont, as well as Brexit issues.
Earlier speaking in Belfast where he was holding a series of meetings with the Northern parties, Mr Varadkar said it was “not a day for negotiations” but that it was an opportunity to “share perspectives”.
Mrs May has said that she is seeking legally binding changes to the backstop previously agreed as part of the Withdrawal Treaty in order to secure support for a deal which would enable an agreed exit from the EU at the end of next month.
EU leaders have signalled a willingness to provide assurances and commitments about the temporary nature of the backstop in the non-legally binding political declaration which will accompany the withdrawal treaty, but have said the treaty itself – including the backstop – is not open for renegotiation.
The Dublin visit comes at the end of a week of shuttle diplomacy in the EU with visits to Brussels by both the Taoiseach and Mrs May to discuss Brexit issues with the leaders of the EU institutions.