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Johnson set for first Dublin visit as Varadkar says trip a formality, not a negotiation

By Aoife Moore

The Taoiseach has said he does not expect a breakthrough at his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson is due to visit Dublin and meet with Leo Varadkar today in his first visit as Prime Minister.

"I don't think the meeting is a high stakes meeting, as I don't anticipate a big breakthrough tomorrow, if we come to an agreement that agreement will happen in October at the EU summit," Mr Varadkar said.

"But the stakes are high, certainly I don't think anyone can argue with that."

The Irish Government has consistently stressed that negotiations on Brexit will only take place between the UK and the EU27, and the meeting will be about "sharing ideas" rather than negotiating bilaterally on the UK leaving the EU.

"It will be an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better, to see if there is common ground, I'm sure there will be," Mr Varadkar added.

"I'd hope that an opportunity to share each other's analysis and an opportunity to talk about some of the issues will be helpful.

"I am conscious that Prime Minister Johnson did vote for the backstop at one point, and has taken a different position since then.

"The situation in the UK is very fluid at the moment. Prime Minister May, with a parliamentary majority, was not able to get a deal through the House of Commons.

"Prime Minister Johnson doesn't have a majority, so I'll be asking him how can he convince us that he is actually capable or has the votes to get a deal through.

"Sooner or later we're going to have to have a deal."

In the event of no-deal, Mr Varadkar says it will not possible to talk about a free trade agreement between the two countries, until issues around the Irish border, citizens' rights and the financial settlement associated with the UK leaving the EU are resolved, which the Irish leader says were already resolved in the withdrawal agreement.

"I am loathe to speculate, but if we end up in a no-deal scenario on November 1, I do think within weeks or months the EU and UK will have to sit down round the table and negotiate again, but it would be a tragedy if we got to that point," he said.

On Mr Johnson's comments that he would rather be found "dead in a ditch" than seek an extension, Mr Varadkar said that he did not feel the same way.

"It's important we remember that this is not about politicians, it's about protecting people's jobs, business and peace and security - and if an extension is required to do that, well I think any politician should be prepared to do that."

Mr Varadkar also said he understands criticism that border checks in a no-deal Brexit undermine the Good Friday Agreement, as he outlined the impacts of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal during a speech to business leaders in Dublin.

He said there will be checks on goods and live animals, which he said would take place "as far as possible" in ports, airports and at businesses.

"But some may need to take place near the border," he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at Dublin Port, where he was inspecting the new examination and customs buildings erected as part of ongoing preparations for Brexit - to meet the requirements for new checks on consignments of goods imported from, or going to the UK.

The concession has been met with criticism, as many view the emergence of any infrastructure near or on the border as in contravention to the Good Friday Agreement and peace process, which enables a free flowing border for goods and travel.

"I understand the criticism and certainly no one in the Irish Government wants there to be checks near the border, between north and south," Mr Varadkar said on Sunday.

Mr Varadkar appeared to lose his train of thought when answering the question, repeatedly offering four solutions to the avoidance of a hard border, but only offering three, while counting on his fingers.

"That's why we designed the backstop to avoid that," he continued.

"That's the solution, there are really only four definite ways to avoid a hard border, the UK staying in the EU, the UK staying in the single market... essentially, sorry, four..."

The Taoiseach stopped, and began again: "There are four ways, the UK staying in the EU, the UK staying in single market, or the backstop.

"We've always been open to alternative arrangements, but we haven't yet seen those come forward - but any of those are ones we can accept."

On Saturday Mr Varadkar's political rival and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said border checks amounted to "political vandalism".

"There cannot be any check anywhere on the island of Ireland, it would be an act of absolute political vandalism and anywhere checks might be located, it would represent a serious breach of the Good Friday Agreement," she said.

"You can dress it up any way you want, whether it's a big bang or gradual process, the introduction of checks and customs and tariffs at any speed means you have not only breached the all-island economy but a fundamental building block of the Good Friday Agreement so that can't happen."

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