Boris Johnson heads to Dublin as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar dampens hopes of Brexit backstop 'breakthrough'
Boris Johnson will head to Dublin on Monday as Ireland's prime minister played down the prospect of any "big breakthroughs" on the Brexit backstop.
The Prime Minister will hold his first face-to-face talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the controversial arrangement, which aims to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if talks on a future EU relationship break down.
Mr Johnson has branded the proposal - which has been repeatedly rejected by the House of Commons - "undemocratic" and called for its complete removal from the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
EU leaders have urged the UK government to present alternative proposals to protect the border if that demand is to be met.
It has been reported that Mr Johnson is considering reviving a version of the backstop that was initially rejected by Theresa May, and which would apply only to Northern Ireland and not the rest of the UK.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Varadkar told reporters at Dublin Port on Sunday that he would be willing to see if the two sides could again find a "Northern Ireland specific" solution to the deadlock, as he said he would "share ideas and compare notes" with the Prime Minister.
“I don’t know if we can find some common ground around a Northern Ireland-unique solution, but we’ve always said as a Government that that’s something that we’re open to,” the Irish leader said.
“Of course we’d like the United Kingdom as a whole to stay in the customs union or a single customs territory, but that’s their decision, not ours. So it’ll be interesting to see if we can explore tomorrow if we could find some common ground around a Northern Ireland-specific solution."
But he warned: “I don’t expect any big breakthroughs but I do think it’s an opportunity for us to establish a relationship.”
In an apparent jibe at Mr Johnson, the Taoiseach meanwhile pointed out that the Prime Minister had in March voted for the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May.
"I am conscious that Prime Minister Johnson did vote for the backstop at one point, and has taken a different position since then," he said.
"The situation in the UK is very fluid at the moment, Prime Minister May, with a parliamentary majority was not able to get a deal through the House of Commons.”
And Mr Varadkar added: "Prime Minister Johnson doesn’t have a majority so I’ll be asking him how he can convince us - Ireland and EU - that he is actually capable or has the votes to get a deal through."
Plans for a version of the backup that applied only to trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic were repeatedly rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party, who the Government had relied on for its Commons majority.
The DUP argued that such proposals would create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.