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Brexit gap still very wide, says Varadkar after Boris Johnson talks

Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the UN General Assembly
Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the UN General Assembly

By Cormac McQuinn

There is still a "very wide gap" between the UK and EU in terms of achieving a Brexit deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned following a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The pair met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York against the backdrop of renewed political turmoil in Westminster.

Mr Varadkar said he would "absolutely not" be joining calls for Mr Johnson's resignation following the UK Supreme Court's ruling that he unlawfully suspended parliament.

But despite Mr Johnson's remarks before their meeting that he was "cautiously optimistic", Mr Varadkar's comments afterwards suggest that a deal on Brexit is still some distance away.

The two delegations held talks for around 40 minutes in what the Taoiseach described as "a good meeting".

But he warned: "There is still a very wide gap between Britain and the EU and Ireland".

The Taoiseach said they talked in detail about the withdrawal agreement and the backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland - which Mr Johnson wants to scrap.

But he said: "There is still a very wide gap between the EU and the UK in terms of achieving what we need to achieve before October."

He said one issue that was not the subject of detailed discussion was the UK Supreme Court's ruling that Mr Johnson had acted unlawfully in suspending Parliament.

He said: "I'd be very much of the view that a decision made by the UK Supreme Court is an internal matter for the UK Government and not something that we're going to get involved in."

Asked if it complicated Brexit negotiations Mr Varadkar replied: "The negotiations have always been complicated by the fact that the UK Parliament is very divided."

The two leaders agreed to meet again "in the near future".

Just before their private talks Mr Varadkar outlined how the Republic and the EU are keen to get a deal to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion.

"That's in Ireland's interest, it's in Britain's interest too.

"But there are certain guarantees that we expect to be honoured, that there won't be a hard border between North and South... that North-South cooperation will continue as envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement, that what was given to us by the British Government back in December 2017."

Mr Johnson added: "It certainly will."

Mr Johnson said they were hoping for progress on Brexit and added: "Probably the best thing there would be if we got on and did it in the short time that we have."

Mr Varadkar met European Council President Donald Tusk in New York on Monday.

The Taoiseach said that Mr Tusk told him "time is quite short" as the October 31 Brexit deadline looms and EU wants to see a written proposal on solutions from the UK in the first week of October.

Speaking to reporters after the bilateral meeting, Mr Varadkar said: "It was a good meeting. No agreements by any means, but we got into some more details."

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister was clear that the UK would be leaving on October 31 and said that he was cautiously optimistic that we would be able to do so through negotiating a deal which is acceptable to both sides.

"The Prime Minister underlined his steadfast commitment to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and said that we will never place infrastructure, checks or controls at the border.

"They agreed on the vital importance of ensuring the peace, prosperity and security of Northern Ireland. The leaders agreed to stay in close contact in coming days."

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