Leo Varadkar 'absolutely convinced' Boris Johnson wants a Brexit deal after 'very positive' meeting
Leo Varadkar has said he is "absolutely convinced" that Boris Johnson wants to strike a Brexit deal after "very positive and very promising" talks between the pair boosted hopes of a last-minute breakthrough.
The Prime Minister and Taoiseach held what was described by both sides as a "detailed and constructive" meeting in Merseyside as the EU and UK continue to seek fresh agreement ahead of the 31 October Brexit deadline.
Speaking after the discussion with Mr Johnson, the Irish Prime Minister said: "I had a very good meeting today with the Prime Minister and our teams together - very positive and very promising.
"I am now absolutely convinced that both Ireland and Britain want there to be an agreement. That is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union as a whole and I do see a pathway towards an agreement in the coming weeks."
Mr Johnson tabled fresh proposals last week aimed at replacing the controversial backstop while maintaining an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
But with just a week to go until a crunch EU summit in Brussels, the talks between the PM and Mr Varadkar appear to have gone some way to bridging the gap between the two sides.
He added: "There are, of course, issues still to be fully resolved. The first is the issue of consent and democracy, ensuring any long-term arrangement that applies to Northern Ireland has the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
"The second is the whole issue of customs. Ensuring that there is no customs border between North and South and also we had a good discussion looking forward to how relationships might look after Brexit. How we might strenghen cooperation North and South, both economically and politically, and between Britain and Ireland.
"So the next steps, of course, are for the United Kingdom government to engage with the EU commission... What I would hope is that what happened today would allow for negotiations to resume in Brussels."
Pressed on the timings for any agreement as the Hallowe'en deadline looms, the Taoiseach said: "We agreed not to get into the details of any proposals or discussions made, but on the timeline question I think it is possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty agreed to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion and to have that done by the end of October.
"But there is many a slip between cup and lip, and lots of things that are not in my control."
Less than 48 hours ago, Mr Varadkar had warned it would "very difficult" to secure a Brexit deal by 31 October and accused the UK of failing to grant meaningful concessions.
He told Irish broadcaster RTE: "Essentially what the United Kingdom has done is repudiated the deal that we negotiated in good faith with Prime Minister May's government over two years and have sort of put half of that now back on the table and are saying that's a concession. And of course it isn't really."
However, a joint statement issued after Thursday's talks said: "Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest. They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.
"Their discussion concentrated on the challenges of customs and consent. They also discussed the potential to strengthen bilateral relations, including on Northern Ireland .
"They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them."
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will hold further talks with Michel Barnier, the EU's top Brexit negotiator, on Friday as the search for a new deal continues.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Barnier said: "To put things very frankly, though, and to try and be objective, at this particular point, we are not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement."