Johnson ‘accepts offer’ to meet Taoiseach to discuss Brexit

Government insists withdrawal agreement and backstop not up for negotiation

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson: A meeting between the two leaders is not expected until after the next G7 summit. Photographs: Francois Lenoir/Reuters and Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson: A meeting between the two leaders is not expected until after the next G7 summit. Photographs: Francois Lenoir/Reuters and Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

A planned meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson will give both sides an opportunity to “gain a better understanding of their respective positions”, the Government has said.

Mr Johnson has accepted an offer to meet Mr Varadkar to discuss Brexit and the backstop, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing UK government sources.

It is believed that any such meeting, expected to take place in Dublin, may not happen until early September due to scheduling issues.

The Government has insisted that the backstop, which is viewed as an insurance policy to avoid a hard border, will not be up for renegotiation.

“The Taoiseach has invited the British prime minister to Dublin for talks on Northern Ireland and Brexit,” a Government spokeswoman said.

“Their offices are in contact to agree a date for these talks in the coming weeks. Such a meeting would give both sides an opportunity to gain a better understanding of their respective positions.

“As has repeatedly been made clear, the withdrawal agreement and the backstop are not up for negotiation. Any discussions on changes to the political declaration would occur between the UK and the EU.”

G7 summit

Mr Johnson is due to meet French leader Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and US president Donald Trump in Biarritz in two weeks’ time at a G7 summit.

Sources believe scheduling issues may mean the first bilateral between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson will be delayed until after the G7 meeting, with a date in early September mooted.

Earlier this month, Mr Varadkar invited Mr Johnson to Dublin during an initial phone call between the pair. Mr Johnson did not immediately take up the offer.

Brussels and London remain at loggerheads over the prospect of fresh Brexit negotiations.

The British government has said any new negotiations must focus on developing an alternative to the withdrawal agreement.

The EU has said it is not prepared to reopen the so-called divorce deal it agreed with former British prime minister Theresa May, which includes the backstop.

Mrs May’s agreement, rejected three times by the British parliament, says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid a hard border.

EU leaders have said, however, they will engage on potential amendments to the political declaration on the future relationship.

Mr Johnson has said Britain will leave the EU on October 31st with or without a deal. He has stepped up preparations to leave without a deal if Brussels maintains its position, prompting some commentators to suspect a no-deal Brexit is, in fact, his goal.