Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Friday said he believed “a deal can be done” to avoid a disorderly British exit from the EU, after a meeting with a key ally of British Prime Minister Theresa May that he said went very well.
Varadkar, due to meet May for a working dinner in Dublin later on Friday evening, said talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party showed there was “more that unites us than divides us when it comes to Brexit.”
The DUP, which props up May’s government, has been one of the fiercest critics of Britain’s exit deal with the European Union, which parliament in London has rejected.
In particular, the DUP has led opposition to the contentious “backstop” provision, an insurance policy meant to keep the border between euro zone state Ireland and the British-run province of Northern Ireland open under any and all circumstances.
The EU has said it will not remove the provision, which Varadkar has insisted on, or re-open the legally binding Brexit deal agreed with Britain over two years. But it has said it is ready to rework the political declaration that accompanies it.
After the meeting, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had a “good engagement” with Varadkar that she looked forward to continuing. Asked what specific measures had been discussed, Foster said there were various options but it would be wrong to provide a “running commentary.”
The support of the DUP’s 10 members of parliament is seen as key to May winning over sceptical members of her Conservative party.
Asked by Irish state broadcaster RTE how he envisaged a deal could be done between Britain and the EU after weeks of stalemate, Varadkar cited the common ground between the Irish government and the DUP.
Both sides, he said, wanted to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, ensure Britain left with a deal and enable frictionless trade.
Varadkar said the first goal of his meeting with May on Friday would be to “see confidence and trust restored” after weeks of acrimony.
“I think that on balance we will secure a deal – whether it will be by the end of March or after an extension I can’t say,” he said. “I think a deal can be done.”