Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar to hold crunch Brexit talks today at secret location on Merseyside as they hope to thrash out deal over backstop

BORIS Johnson and Leo Varadkar are holding crunch Brexit talks at a secret location today as they hope to thrash out a deal over the Northern Irish backstop.

The PM will be meeting the Irish leader on Merseyside – believed to be Liverpool – for what No10 described as a “private meeting” to allow “detailed discussions”.


BACKSTOPPED

There will not be a press call and Mr Johnson’s team have refused to give any further details on where the pair will chat.

The PM faces a race against time to broker a deal with Mr Varadkar as the clock ticks down to the deadline of October 31 – with negotiations on the verge of total collapse.

The Taoiseach acknowledged ahead of the discussion that it will be "very difficult" to secure a deal by next week.

EU leaders have set a deadline of Friday for the outlines of any agreement to be in place before a crunch EU summit next Thursday.

But No10 sources tonight held little hope for an eleventh hour breakthrough, amid the bitter atmosphere and the gap between London and Dublin over Northern Ireland’s customs regime still gaping.

One senior Downing Street figure tonight said Mr Johnson will go to the meeting with the Taoiseach “in hope rather than much else”, adding: “The problems today are as big as they were yesterday”.

CRUNCH TALKS

Mr Johnson wants to keep Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the EU than the rest of the UK on rules on goods and agriculture but remove it from the current customs union.

But Mr Varadkar is opposed to the Republic being in a different customs union from the north.

On Wednesday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there was still no basis for a fresh agreement on the UK's withdrawal from the the bloc.

He said they had yet to see any "operational, legally binding solution" to the issue of the backstop ahead of next week's European Council meeting.

Mr Johnson's "two borders" proposals, he said, were based on a system "that hasn't been properly developed, that hasn't been tested".

As far as the Irish Government is concerned, we do want a deal, we're willing to work hard to get a deal, to work until the last moment to get a deal, but certainly not at any cost.

The downbeat assessment from Mr Barnier was echoed by the Taoiseach, who said the PM was installing an obstacle to progress by insisting that Northern Ireland must leave the customs union with the rest of the UK.

"That's their position at the moment and that's one that is a great difficulty for us," Mr Varadkar told the Irish Parliament.

"As far as the Irish Government is concerned, we do want a deal, we're willing to work hard to get a deal, to work until the last moment to get a deal, but certainly not at any cost."

Mr Johnson must bring back a deal before October 19 if he is to avoid a clash over the Benn Act, which aims to prevent a no-deal departure.

The legislation orders the PM to ask for a delay to Article 50 until the end of January if MPs do not approve a deal before that date.

But he has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay, while insisting that he will abide by the law.

Mr Johnson is planning an emergency Saturday sitting of Parliament following the summit, to be held on October 19, according to Government sources.

It is thought the Prime Minister could use the occasion to force a showdown with MPs determined to block a no-deal Brexit.


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