Leo Varadkar says it will be 'very difficult' to strike Brexit deal
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it will be "very difficult" to secure a Brexit deal by 31 October as he prepares for last-ditch talks with Boris Johnson amid fading hopes of an agreement.
The Irish prime minister - who is expected to meet Johnson in Dublin on Thursday or Friday - said he would work "until the very last moment" to try to secure a deal.
But he warned that a "wide difference" remained over the UK's proposals to replace the backstop mechanism for maintaining an open Irish border.
Varadkar held a 40-minute call with the UK Prime Minister on Tuesday evening, with Number 10 saying both sides had "strongly reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal".
However, Varadkar downplayed hopes of any last-minute compromise after a day of bitter exchanges between Brussels and London.
"We very much want there to be a deal and I'll certainly work until the very last moment to secure that - not at any cost," he told RTÉ News.
"And there are some fundamental objectives that haven't changed for the past three years and we need them guaranteed."
He added: "I think it's going to be very difficult to secure an agreement by next week, quite frankly.
"Essentially what the United Kingdom has done is repudiated the deal that we negotiated in good faith with Prime Minister May's government over two years and have sort of put half of that now back on the table and are saying that's a concession. And of course it isn't really."
The comments came amid growing indications that the UK's talks with the EU are now on the verge of collapse.
A Downing Street official said a lengthy phone call between Angela Merkel and Johnson had led the UK to believe a compromise over the Irish border was now "essentially impossible", with talks "close to breaking down".
Berlin said it would not comment "on such confidential discussions" - but EU Council President Donald Tusk hit back at the briefing and accused the UK of indulging in "some stupid blame game".
Asked if the language in the Brexit talks was now becoming more toxic, Varadkar appeared to point the finger at the UK, saying it was "in some quarters".
But he added: "I don't play dirty and I don’t think most EU leaders do either. We’ve been very straight up when the referendum happened three years ago."
European Parliament President David Sissoli - who held talks with Johnson at Downing Street on Monday evening - meanwhile struck a gloomy tone, saying there had been "no progress".
Speaking after the meeting he told reporters: "I came here in the confident hope of hearing proposals that could take negotiations forward. However, I must note that there has been no progress."
And he added: "There are two alternatives to a deal at this juncture: extension or no deal.
"I do hope a no-deal outcome can be avoided, but if not, the EU has taken the necessary measures to prepare for this outcome.
"I continue to place my faith in good sense and responsibility but among friends, duty demands that we tell each other the truth."
A Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister stated his preference for leaving the EU with a deal. He emphasised that the UK’s proposal represents a significant step and a reasonable compromise which respects the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, the single market and provides for democratic consent in Northern Ireland.
"The Prime Minister set out how there is little time remaining to negotiate a new agreement, and so we need to move quickly and work together to agree a deal. He reiterated that if we did not reach an agreement then the UK will leave without a deal on the 31 October. "