“Many issues” still stand in the way of Brexit deal, Taoiseach says
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that there are “many issues” still to be resolved before a new Brexit deal can be agreed.
Negotiations between the EU and the UK government are ongoing after recent breakthrough talks between Varadkar and prime minister Boris Johnson, but there remains a lack of common ground on how goods moving between Britain and the island of Ireland will be checked.
There is also uncertainty over how to garner political support in Northern Ireland for any new arrangements.
Speaking in Dublin, Varadkar said: "There is a pathway to a possible deal but there are many issues that still need to be fully resolved, particularly around the consent mechanism [in Northern Ireland] and also some issues around customs.
"I do think we are making progress, but there are issues yet to be resolved.”
The DUP has been firm that it cannot accept a customs border of any kind on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea, which would see post-Brexit Northern Ireland treated differently to Great Britain.
DUP representatives said on Tuesday said that “gaps remain and further work is required” to render a deal acceptable.
Johnson is required by UK law to request an extension to the Article 50 deadline if a deal is not in place by Saturday [October 19], but he has previously insisted that the UK will leave the bloc by the October 31 deadline with or without a deal.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay reassured MPs on Wednesday that the prime minister will “comply with the law” and request an extension if required.
Realistically, if the UK is to leave on Halloween, the prime minister must agree a deal with the EU before the upcoming two-day summit of European leaders which begins on Thursday.
The deal must then be published with its accompanying legal text, to be presented at the summit and be agreed on by EU leaders.
However, an EU diplomat speaking to the press in Brussels hinted that there would not be enough time to publish a revised withdrawal agreement and legal text ready for approval from EU leaders at the summit this week.
After his conversation with Johnson, Varadkar indicated that there is still “more time” for a further breakthrough in negotiations, amid speculation that another EU summit could take place in the near future should Article 50 be extended.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and the prime minister will meet with their respective camps later to brief them on the current status of negotiations.
Should any deal be reached with the EU this week, the prime minister is expected to call a historic parliamentary sitting on Saturday, the first weekend sitting in 37 years, where he will look to secure MPs backing to pass the deal through the House of Commons.
Whether it goes ahead will depend on how negotiations with the EU transpire this week, but should a deal materialise and Saturday's sitting go ahead, Johnson will need to win the support of Conservative Brexiteers and the DUP if he is to get his deal through Parliament, a feat which proved the bane of predecessor Theresa May’s premiership.
Speaking to BBC Radio Four, former Brexit secretary David Davis warned that the support of Eurosceptic Conservatives is not a given for the prime minister.
Davis said: “Quite a lot of Tory MPs will take their line from what the DUP say. If the DUP say this is intolerable, that will be quite important.”
Furthermore, a cross-party group of MPs is in Brussels at the moment looking to deliver a blow to Johnson's hopes of securing Brexit by October 31, by making a case to the EU for an extension to Article 50.
Former Conservative minister, Dominic Grieve, among the group, told Sky News that it would be impossible for any agreement to be made with the EU this week and subsequently gain enough support to pass through Parliament for Brexit to happen by October 31.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are pursuing an amendment to the recent Queen’s Speech, calling for any new deal to be put to the people in a second referendum.