British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday there was “the rough shape of a deal to be done” over Brexit, as he prepared to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a renewed push to reach an agreement.
But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar played down the prospects, saying the gap between Britain and the EU remained “very wide” and he doubted Johnson could make the compromises needed to get a deal and have it ratified by UK lawmakers.
With just seven weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU, Johnson will travel to Luxembourg on Monday for his first meeting with Juncker as he seeks to reneogitate the exit deal his predecessor Theresa May reached with the bloc.
“We always said we are willing to explore alternative arrangements ... But so far I think it is fair to say that what we are seeing falls very far short of what we need,” Varadkar told Ireland’s RTE radio in an interview.
“The gap is very wide,” he said. He later told another Irish broadcaster, Virgin Media News, that he was not sure Johnson would be able to make the compromises necessary.
A report in the Times newspaper suggested Johnson could opt to tweak the backstop by having some EU rules apply only in Northern Ireland, not the rest of the United Kingdom. But Johnson’s government’s Northern Irish allies rejected the report, which suggested they might agree to such a move.
“We will not accept a Northern Ireland-only backstop,” Sammy Wilson, spokesman for the Democratic Unionists whose 10 lawmakers support Johnson’s government, told BBC Radio Ulster. “It won’t be a backstop by any other name either. We will not be accepting separate arrangements that cut us off from the UK.”
He suggested that the Northern Ireland assembly would require an effective veto of any EU regulations, something the EU and Ireland have repeatedly rejected.