Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar have sat down for crunch talks to salvage the Brexit deal at a luxury wedding venue in Merseyside.
The UK and Irish prime ministers gathered at Thornton Manor in Wirral for what their offices billed as a “private meeting” to hammer out plans before a major EU summit next week.
Tweeting pictures of the meeting Mr Varadkar wrote: “Looking forward to a detailed discussion to see if we can make any progress.”
A small protest quickly popped up outside of pro-EU campaigners carrying flags.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said yesterday both sides were “not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke openly about the possibility of no-deal, saying: “We want to reduce the negative effects, even if there is a disorderly Brexit, in both countries.”
Mr Johnson has unveiled new plans for the post-Brexit Irish border, having vowed to scrap the backstop arrangement agreed between Brussels and his predecessor Theresa May.
The backstop was designed as an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland regardless of the future EU-UK trade relationship.
Mr Johnson has called it “anti-democratic”.
But Mr Barnier has said the UK’s Irish border proposals are “not something we can accept”, and Mr Varadkar has also been cool on the plans.
He told the Irish parliament on Wednesday that Mr Johnson’s insistence that Northern Ireland must leave the EU’s customs union with the rest of the UK was blocking progress in reaching an agreement.
The two need to clear any major hurdles before next week’s gathering of 28 EU leaders to sign off a new Brexit deal or, if asked by the UK, agree on another delay.