How the British press covered Johnson’s meeting with Varadkar

National papers, tabloids covered meeting in live blogs, news articles and opinion pieces

Ahead of a meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin, British prime minister Boris Johnson says he wants a Brexit deal by October 18th and that a no-deal Brexit would be a failure the British and Irish governments would be responsible for.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson held their first official meeting in their current roles at Government Buildings in Dublin on Monday morning.

Ahead of the meeting they held a joint press conference for journalists from the UK and Ireland, where they mainly discussed Brexit negotiations and the Northern Irish Border impasse.

The national daily newspapers and tabloids in the UK covered the meeting in live blogs, stand-alone news articles and opinion pieces in its immediate aftermath online.

In a look at coverage by six outlets, as of around 3pm on Monday – the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian, BBC, Financial Times and Express – just the Daily Mail did not have a stand-alone article on the meeting on its homepage, although its liveblog, which was linked from the homepage, covered events in Dublin.

Of the six outlets, the Guardian, Daily Mail, Telegraph and BBC referred to Varadkar as the Taoiseach in their articles about the meeting; the others referred to him as the Irish counterpart or the Irish prime minister.

Here is how the six outlets were covering the meeting.

A snapshot of The Telegraph’s live blog.
A snapshot of The Telegraph’s live blog.

The Telegraph

The Telegraph’s live-blog coverage of the meeting covers both Johnson’s prepared remarks, and his and Varadkar’s responses to journalists’ questions. The coverage says Johnson “fudged” his answer to a question about when he was last at the Northern Irish Border, and whether he thought it was still like crossing between London neighbourhoods Camden and Islington. He responded: “We must ensure there is an open border and goods and people can circulate in the normal way.”

Later in the day, the live blog covered when Johnson had returned to London, saying he was “pumped”.

The Telegraph’s Europe editor Peter Foster, in an opinion piece about the meeting, opens by saying “There is no point disguising the fact that relations between the UK and Ireland are at a low ebb”. Foster goes on to say that, while Johnson’s ministers are promising he is “straining every sinew” to get a deal, the “Taoiseach dryly shut the idea down” by observing that was a “very optimistic assessment of where we stand”.

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Foster says calls Johnson’s offer of an all-island adoption of EU rules for food and health regulations a “smokescreen” for no deal.

The Daily Mail’s website homepage on Monday afternoon.
The Daily Mail’s website homepage on Monday afternoon.

The Daily Mail

The British tabloid’s homepage did not feature coverage of the meeting with Varadkar on their homepage by Monday afternoon, but had a full-page banner about the prorogation of parliament.

Their coverage of the meeting – which was primarily in their liveblog – leads with Johnson’s insistence that he will be able to secure a deal, followed by his concession that a no-deal Brexit would be a bad outcome for “both sides”. The blog goes on to say that Johnson “insisted that the UK would be leaving the EU by October 31, come what may, saying failing to do so would cause ‘permanent damage’ to democracy”.

In relation to Varadkar, the Daily Mail says he “swiped” back at Johnson when he said the UK had “no realistic plan” for replacing the backstop. Like other tabloid outlets, the Daily Mail also includes mention of Varadkar saying Johnson has a “Herculean” task ahead of him.

The Guardian

Lisa O’Carroll, the Guardian’s Brexit correspondent, opens her coverage of the Johnson-Varadkar meeting with a quote from the Taoiseach warning the prime minister that there will be “no clean break” from the EU, and says the Taoiseach gave Johnson a “tough message”.

O’Carroll says no members of the British print press were allowed to ask questions at the press conference.

She quotes Varadkar more than Johnson, and cites contradictions between the two: “Johnson said it [a trusted trader scheme] would go ‘a long way’ in solving the Irish Border problem, although Varadkar told reporters on Sunday it would not be enough to replace the backstop in Theresa May’s deal.”


The broadcaster’s online coverage of the meeting leads with a quote from Johnson that a no-deal Brexit would “be a failure that both the British and Irish governments would be responsible for”.

The BBC also quotes Johnson saying that he wanted to find a deal, that Stormont must be restored to avoid “permanent damage” to the UK and “trust in our democratic system”.

The BBC’s Northern Ireland Political Reporter Jayne McCormack then goes on to say that Johnson struck a more conciliatory tone in Dublin, and that Varadkar was “stony-faced” while saying a deal was still possible, and warning that “promises from the UK wouldn’t cut it”.

The Financial Times’ coverage of the meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson.
The Financial Times’ coverage of the meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson.

The Financial Times

The FT’s Arthur Beesley begins his news article with Johnson’s assertion that the UK could “strike a new Brexit deal with the EU to avoid crashing out without a deal”, and goes on to say that the meeting highlighted the “stark differences” between the two.

Beesley then focuses on Varadkar’s request for “constructive ways” to settle the impasse, and highlights the DUP’s opposition to the backstop. He points out that the DUP believe the backstop could divide the North from the rest of the UK.

The Express

An Express headline on coverage of the meeting says that Varadkar “admitted” to Johnson that “most EU countries” don’t want a delay.

In their live-blog coverage, like the Daily Mail, they make multiple mentions of Varadkar telling Johnson he has a “Herculean” task ahead of him.

In another news piece for the Express on the meeting, writer Joe Barnes says Varadkar faces a “crisis” in Ireland unless he is able to avoid a no-deal Brexit during the talks with Johnson. Barnes’s article goes on to say that Varadkar argued for the backstop, while Johnson said he “overwhelmingly” wanted a deal, and believed one could be reached. Barnes outlines Johnson’s idea for an all-island regulatory system for agriculture, to avoid customs checks, but says Varadkar said it wouldn’t be sufficient to replace the backstop.


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