LONDON — Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar held a “detailed and constructive discussion” on the details of the U.K. government’s latest proposal for a Brexit deal.
The meeting, which took place at lunchtime in the village of Thornton Hough on the Wirral, was widely seen as Johnson’s last push for a deal ahead next week’s European Council summit where he must make dramatic progress if he is to meet his self-imposed deadline for pulling the U.K. out of the EU by October 31.
Prior to the meeting, the Irish gave Johnson’s proposals — which envision setting up a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. — a frosty reception. The plan appears to have been widely rejected by the EU.
However, speaking at a press conference following the meeting, Varadkar said that following a “very positive and very promising” meeting it is now possible for both parties to strike a deal by the “end of October.”
“I do see a pathway towards an agreement in the coming weeks,” he said.
The Irish prime minister added that negotiations needed to continue to ensure that any long-term arrangement that applies to Northern Ireland has the consent of its people and that there is no customs border on the island of Ireland.
Varadkar said it was possible to reach a deal by the European Council summit, but warned “there was many a slip between cup and lip.”
Earlier this week, Varadkar had said Johnson’s new proposals “fall short in a number of aspects.”
Downing Street said in a statement after the meeting that both leaders believe a deal is in everybody’s interest.
“They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal,” a spokesperson said. “They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.”
An official said the Irish delegation emerged from the talks with a sense that more progress had been made than expected. U.K. and Irish officials will now both brief Barnier’s Brexit taskforce on the substance of Johnson and Varadkar’s discussion, with both sides cautiously hopeful they can form the basis of new negotiations.
Ahead of the meeting, U.K. officials said the best outcome would be for the Irish to emerge from it prepared to urge the EU to engage anew with the U.K.’s proposals, allowing talks to enter “the tunnel” — an intensive phase of closed-door negotiations with a view to a substantive outcome, as opposed to the technical but somewhat directionless discussions of recent days.
It was not initially clear what new proposals have been put on the table by either side, but the change in mood from Irish officials strongly suggests there has been movement from the U.K side at least.
The U.K.’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will continue talks Friday morning at a meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
This story has been updated with additional details.