Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said that a treaty agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is “possible” by the end of October, amid reports of concessions from Boris Johnson ahead of next week’s make-or-break Brussels summit.

The comment came after more than two hours of talks with the prime minister at a country house hotel on Merseyside, which ended with the pair agreeing they could see “a pathway to a possible deal” and would “reflect further” on the way ahead.

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay will now meet EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Friday for talks which may determine whether ongoing technical talks can be stepped up to become genuine negotiations, while Varadkar will report back on progress to the EU’s Taskforce 50 negotiation team.

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There was no immediate response from Downing Street to reports in the Irish media of “very significant” movement from Johnson on customs arrangements, which represent the biggest sticking point for Dublin in the proposals put forward by the PM earlier this month.

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UK news in pictures

Shape Created with Sketch.
UK news in pictures

1/50 10 October 2019

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor. Their meeting focused on further Brexit proposals

2/50 9 October 2019

Wales survived an almighty scare against Fiji to secure quarter-final spot at the rugby world cup. Warren Gatland’s side recovered from a 10-0 deficit thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Adams

3/50 8 October 2019

Protesters dubbed the Red Rebels at Millbank at the junction with Great College Street, during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Westminster

4/50 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

5/50 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

6/50 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

7/50 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

8/50 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

9/50 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

10/50 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

11/50 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

12/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

13/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

14/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

15/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

16/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

17/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

18/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

19/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

20/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

21/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

22/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

23/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

24/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

25/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

26/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

28/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

29/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

30/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

31/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

32/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

33/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

34/50 7 September 2019

Manchester City celebrate after Caroline Weir scored during their Women’s Super League match against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium. The WSL attendance record was smashed with 31,213 people watching the first Manchester derby of Women’s Super League era – nearly six times the previous WSL record

35/50 6 September 2019

A bull bumps into a plain clothes police officer (left) while being walked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Darnford Farm in Banchory near Aberdeen. It coincided with the publication of Lord Bew’s review and an announcement of extra funding for Scottish farmers

36/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

37/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

38/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

39/50 2 September 2019

Set building begins on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh ahead of filming for Fast and Furious 9

40/50 1 September 2019

Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

42/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

43/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

44/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

45/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

46/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

47/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

48/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

49/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

50/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

1/50 10 October 2019

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor. Their meeting focused on further Brexit proposals

2/50 9 October 2019

Wales survived an almighty scare against Fiji to secure quarter-final spot at the rugby world cup. Warren Gatland’s side recovered from a 10-0 deficit thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Adams

3/50 8 October 2019

Protesters dubbed the Red Rebels at Millbank at the junction with Great College Street, during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Westminster

4/50 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

5/50 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

6/50 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

7/50 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

8/50 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

9/50 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

10/50 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

11/50 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

12/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

13/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

14/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

15/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

16/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

17/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

18/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

19/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

20/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

21/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

22/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

23/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

24/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

25/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

26/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

28/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

29/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

30/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

31/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

32/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

33/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

34/50 7 September 2019

Manchester City celebrate after Caroline Weir scored during their Women’s Super League match against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium. The WSL attendance record was smashed with 31,213 people watching the first Manchester derby of Women’s Super League era – nearly six times the previous WSL record

35/50 6 September 2019

A bull bumps into a plain clothes police officer (left) while being walked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Darnford Farm in Banchory near Aberdeen. It coincided with the publication of Lord Bew’s review and an announcement of extra funding for Scottish farmers

36/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

37/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

38/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

39/50 2 September 2019

Set building begins on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh ahead of filming for Fast and Furious 9

40/50 1 September 2019

Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

42/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

43/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

44/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

45/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

46/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

47/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

48/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

49/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

50/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

Varadkar insists there must be no customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic in order to avoid damage to the all-island economy, while Johnson has floated a system of checks within traders’ premises and elsewhere in the supply chain but not at the border itself.

Any move to harmonise customs arrangements between North and South would put at risk Mr Johnson’s putative majority for a deal in the House of Commons, by alienating the Conservatives’ DUP allies and hardline Tory Brexiteers who fear it would stop the UK from striking trade deals with the US and around the world.

While confirming his talks with the PM were “constructive”, the Taoiseach cautioned that there were “issues yet to be fully resolved” relating both to the vexed issue of customs and to mechanisms to make any deal subject to the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

And he indicated that there may not be sufficient time for a breakthrough by next week’s meeting of EU leaders at the European Council in Brussels, sparking speculation of a special Brexit summit later in the month. 

“I think it is possible to come to an agreement to have a treaty agreed to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion and to have that done by the end of October,” said Mr Varadkar.

But he added: “There’s many a slip between cup and lip and lots of things that are not in my control.”

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After receiving flak from Brussels for hostile briefings earlier in the week, Downing Street sources were being notably tight-lipped over the discussions at the Thornton Hall hotel on The Wirral.

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar in conversation during Wednesday’s meeting at Thornton Manor Hotel, on The Wirral, Cheshire (PA)

Number 10 released a joint statement from Johnson and Varadkar, which stated that “both continue  to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest”.

“They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal,” said the statement. “They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.

Speaking at the airport before his return to Dublin, Mr Varadkar said: ”I am now absolutely convinced that both Ireland and Britain want there to be an agreement that’s in the interests of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the European Union as a whole.

“There are of course issues yet to be fully resolved. The first is the issue of consent and democracy, ensuring that any long-term arrangement that applies to Northern Ireland has the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. The second is the whole issue of customs, ensuring that there is no customs border between North and South.”

He added: “I would hope that what’s happened today would be sufficient to allow negotiations to resume in Brussels.”

Asked how quickly agreement could be reached, Mr Varadkar said: “I think all sides would like there to be an agreement next week at the council if possible, and there is obviously a further deadline after that, which is 31 October. So I would say a short pathway rather than a long one, but it’s impossible to predict that for sure.”

France’s Emmanuel Macron previously indicated that progress was needed before the end of this week to evaluate whether there was any prospect of agreement on a deal at the 17 October summit.

An agenda for the summit was expected to be released on Friday, though it could be held back if Brussels sees any indication of Johnson moving on elements of his plan which have proven unpalatable to the EU27.

Expectations of a deal reached rock bottom on Wednesday, after an address to the European Parliament in which Mr Barnier said Johnson’s plans were “not really in a position where we’re able to find an agreement”.

Brussels objects that the UK proposal does not prevent a customs border in Ireland, does not provide immediately available or legally operable mechanisms and gives a veto to Stormont.