Varadkar to discuss Irish border issue with Tusk and Barnier

The Taoiseach will hold meetings with key EU figures in Brussels on Thursday as focus on finding a resolution to the Irish border backstop intensifies.

Leo Varadkar will have talks with President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Pic by Brian Lawless, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Pic by Brian Lawless, PA

Mr Varadkar is also due to meet the chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, Guy Verhofstadt.

The engagements come two weeks ahead of the crunch European Council summit in Brussels and amid ongoing uncertainty over whether a Brexit deal can be struck.

The impasse over the Irish border remains a key sticking point, with the EU and UK unable to find common ground on the shape of a legally binding ‘backstop’ position that would ensure free movement across the frontier, even if a wider trade deal failed to materialise.

Ahead of the meetings in Brussels, Mr Varadkar warned time was running out on the Brexit negotiations.

“I look forward to these meetings in Brussels, which will give me the opportunity to discuss the status of the Brexit negotiations ahead of the European Council meeting in two weeks’ time,” he said.

“The immediate focus of the Irish Government is on the pressing need for agreement on a Withdrawal Agreement, with an operational and legally-binding backstop.

“The Withdrawal Agreement must ensure that, no matter what the outcome of negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and UK, a hard border on the island of Ireland will be avoided.

“This is critically important to reinforce the stability brought about by the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement.

“The negotiations are entering a critical phase, and time is running out. But I believe that an agreement is possible, with the right political will and focus on all sides.”