Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is under pressure to ensure his Brexit meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes place in Dublin and not London amid rising tensions over the talks.
Government sources confirmed Dublin remains their preferred location as Mr Johnson last night finally accepted Mr Varadkar’s fortnight-old invitation to meet — but declined to rule out a London location.
In a statement last evening, Downing Street said Mr Johnson has agreed to meet with Mr Varadkar in order to discuss Brexit and bilateral issues including the ongoing Stormont stalemate in Northern Ireland.
However, the spokesperson said while officials in both Dublin and London are finalising meeting plans, no date or location has been agreed.
British media outlets have taken this as a suggestion the meeting could take place in London rather than Dublin, as was originally offered.
However, despite Government members publicly downplaying the significance of the meeting location, officials have privately acknowledged the need to hold the talks in Dublin and not London due to the ongoing Brexit PR battle. Senior Irish sources said they are still working on the basis any talks will be held in Dublin.
The potential stand-off is likely to be resolved in the coming days before what is expected to be a formal meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson in early September.
Although British weekend reports suggested the talks could take place in late August, Irish officials have noted the G7 summit is planned for August 24-26 in Biarritz, France, meaning an early September window before the Dáil and House of Commons’ return is more likely.
Such a timeframe would pose potential risks, however, as it would occur just over a month out from the crunch EU summit in Brussels on October 17-18 which will be dominated by no-deal Brexit plans.
Asked about the issues on RTÉ radio, Fine Gael senator and Seanad spokesperson on Brexit Neale Richmond said “realistically” the meeting will be in September.
While noting Mr Varadkar’s invite to Mr Johnson for talks included meeting in Dublin, he added: “I think we can get a little bit over-focused on the optics and start talking about conspiracy theories. Wherever the meeting happens, if it happens, it happens.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson MP has become the latest British politician to travel to the Irish border, saying there is no “good Brexit” for Northern Ireland.
Ms Swinson, whose party wants Britain to remain in the EU, said it is vital to hear the views of people living in Northern Ireland, adding when asked about Mr Johnson that he was “our worst ever foreign secretary” and “does not possess the skills or diplomacy” for high office.