Taoiseach hopes to meet Johnson in New York as Brexit deal mood improves

Private meeting held with DUP leader in Dublin on Wednesday night

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tries his hand at ploughing with Colman Cogan  from Sligo during the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow, Ireland. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tries his hand at ploughing with Colman Cogan from Sligo during the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow, Ireland. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he hopes to meet British prime minster Boris Johnson in New York next week amid renewed optimism that a deal on Brexit is possible before the October 31st deadline.

Mr Varadkar has disclosed that he and Mr Johnson exchanged messages this morning following on from their first bilateral meeting in Dublin last week. He also said that a further meeting between the two is possible on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly.

He said his belief was the “mood music” had improved over the past week but that there was still a large gap between the positions of the EU and those of the British government.

“We hope to meet up in New York next week if possible and carry on our discussions from there,” said the Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar also held a private 45-minute meeting with Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster in Dublin last night, following her address to a Dublin Chamber of Commerce event.

‘Willingness to find deal’

During his visit to the National Ploughing Championship in Fenagh, Co Carlow, Mr Varadkar was asked to assess the prevailing atmosphere.

“There is now a real willingness to find a deal. There are very few people who want no deal to happen. I am not one of them,” he said.

He added: “The rhetoric has tempered. The mood music is good. There is a lot of positivity.

“The difficulty is when it comes to the substance of the issues that have to be resolved there is a gap that is still very wide and we have no time to lose.”

Asked about the call of the Finnish prime minister Antti Rinne for a September 30 deadline for any British proposal on Brexit, the Taoiseach said that the way Europe worked meant that proposals need to be “teed up” for the EU Summit on October 17th.

“It is not going to happen at 5am (on the day) with 27 prime minsters and their teams trying to write up a treaty. That’s not the way these things are done.”

He said he was setting no deadline but also said there was no time to waste. He also said there would be no difficulty in Ireland with supplies of medicines or food in the wake of Brexit, although some British brands might not be available.

He pointed out that the two most affected countries would be Britain and Ireland while most EU countries would be “barely affected at all”.

Change of tone

Earlier at the ploughing, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said said a marked change of tone and position by Unionist leaders in recent days has made an orderly Brexit by the end of October a real possibility.

He said Ms Foster’s , speech in Dublin on Wednesday and her subsequent private meeting with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar represented a “significant development”.

Asked if an agreement was possible, he replied: “If there is a will, there is a way.”

He said he welcomed the tone of Ms Foster’s contributions and said the momentum now was shifting towards an all-island arrangement. He added there was still a long way to go.

“It is heading towards a Northern Ireland specific solution. The difficulty will be in finalising that. That’s where it is heading.

Brussels knows that, the Irish Government knows that, the British Government knows that.”

He called for less megaphone diplomacy, less triumphalism, as negotiations continued.

“The Armageddon of a no deal must be avoided. A no deal is damaging to the British economy, particularly damaging to the Northern Irish economy and to the republic.

“Unionism realises that and knows its people will not be happy with a no deal.

The reason there has not been written proposals tabled is because because anything that gets tabled gets leaked very quickly.

It gets very quickly leaked in Brussels as well.

He said the Irish and British governments, as well as Northern parties, had been much more creative in the past over far more difficult issues, associated with reaching the Good Friday Agreement.

“It should not be beyond the capacity of political leadership to protect the livelihoods of the people we represent,” he said.

“I think it can (work). If there is a will there is a way.”

Unhelpful

He said the comments by Mr Rinne to impose a September 30th deadline on Britain to table its proposals was “very unhelpful”.

I don’t see any merits in putting deadlines. If there is deadline, it is October 31st.

“This is not about punishing Britain any more.”

He said the time for political games and oneupmanship was now over.

Asked if the political make-up in Westminster made any deal impossible, Mr Martin said sometimes negotiations were about helping the other side over the line.

“Circumstances have conspired to create a situation where Boris Johnson and his government need a deal by the end of October.

“To a certain extent his own moves have put him into that corner,” he said.

Mr Martin added: “Unionists are hearing it from the people on the ground they don’t want a no deal.

“I think that is a factor in the increased activity and energy that is emerging form the unionists.

“I’m not understating the difficulties and the challenges but it does not take a degree in rocket science to move a UK wide backstop to a Northern Ireland specific solution.”

He said the imperative now for many is to avoid a no-deal Brexit and that meant a change in position for unionism.