Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is increasingly hopeful a deal to avoid a no-deal Brexit can be reached following his meeting with UK prime minister Boris Johnson.
Senior government sources close to Mr Varadkar told the Irish Examiner they are “more optimistic that he does want a deal” before October 31, thereby avoiding a crash-out Brexit.
This is despite Mr Johnson failing to table any fresh alternative options to the Northern Ireland backstop with just seven weeks to go before the UK leaves the EU.
“Yes, we are open to alternatives. But they must be realistic ones, legally binding and workable. We have received no such proposals to date,” said Mr Varadkar.
The increased hope comes as the House of Commons was suspended until October 15 and speaker John Bercow signalled his intention to resign.
The long-awaited meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson yielded little with both sides saying “significant gaps remain” as how to resolve the Brexit crisis.
The two men said the meeting, half an hour just by themselves and half an hour with their respective teams, was “positive and constructive”.
However it is clear little real progress was made with a statement saying: “This was an essential and timely opportunity for the Taoiseach and the prime minister to establish a relationship and a better understanding of each other’s positions.”
Mr Varadkar told Mr Johnson that, for the Irish Government, having no backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement was the same as having no deal. He said there was no such thing as a clean break.
“In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us,” Mr Varadkar said. In response, Mr Johnson said he wants a deal and it would be a “failure of statecraft” if one is not achieved.
“I have one message that I want to land with you today, Leo, that is I want to find a deal, I want to get a deal,” Mr Johnson said.
“Like you I’ve looked carefully at no-deal, I’ve assessed its consequences both for our country and yours. And yes, of course, we could do it, the UK could certainly get through it but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.”
At his think-in in Gorey, Co Wexford, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of veering towards no-deal Brexit border checks after Mr Varadkar confirmed checks on goods “near” the border will take place in a worst-case scenario.
Mr Martin said Brexit negotiators must consider a Northern Ireland-only backstop or “special economic zone” as a solution to the crisis, saying the issue is on the table again as “Boris Johnson is in a tight corner now”.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was “encouraged” by Mr Johnson’s commitment to a “sensible” Brexit.