THERE are ‘many issues’ still to be resolved before a Brexit agreement can be reached, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, as talks continued yesterday.
He said differences remained over how goods moving between Britain and the island of Ireland would be checked and how to secure political support for any new arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a race against the clock to secure an agreement before the two-day gathering of EU leaders begins today.
The UK is due to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on 31 October and Johnson has repeatedly insisted this will happen, regardless of whether there is a deal or not.
Today, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, will update the bloc on the state of the negotiations when he briefs commissioners and ambassadors.
There were suggestions the talks had gone as far as they could ‘unless and until’ the PM could bring the Democratic Unionists on board.
The Northern Ireland party has repeatedly insisted it cannot accept any ‘customs border’ in the Irish Sea that would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of Britain after Brexit.
After a 90-minute meeting with the prime minister on Tuesday, the DUP said ‘it would be fair to indicate gaps remain and further work is required’.
Any deal will need to be published, along with a legal text, if the EU’s 27 nations are to consider ratifying the withdrawal agreement at their summit.
That meeting is crucial, because the Benn Act legislation passed last month seeks to compel PM Johnson to ask the bloc for a delay to Brexit if he does not get a new deal approved by MPs by Saturday.
Following his call with the UK PM, and amid reports the EU could organise another summit next week if necessary, Varadkar suggested there was still ‘more time’ for a breakthrough.
‘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 and also some issues around customs and VAT,’ he said at an agri-food event in Dublin.
‘I do think we are making progress, but there are issues yet to be resolved.’
PM Johnson requires support from all Conservative MPs, Democratic Unionists, and pro-Brexit Labour MPs if he is to get his deal through Parliament.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said the support of Tory Eurosceptics could not be taken for granted and MPs would subject any agreement to ‘two or three key tests’ – including whether it compromised the future of the United Kingdom.
‘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.’
The UK is due to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on 31 October.
Yesterday Labour denied that pro-Brexit Labour MPs were being threatened with de-selection of they voted for the Brexit deal.