Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, at right, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak to reporters in Dublin, Ireland, on September 9. File Photo by Aidan Crawley/EPA-EFE
Oct. 10 (UPI) -- With his promised EU departure date three weeks away, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Irish leader Leo Varadkar Thursday to discuss the deal's main sticking point -- the Irish backstop.
The prime ministers met at Thornton Manor in the British city of Wirral for a 2-hour working lunch. The closed-door meeting was described as an avenue for Johnson and Varadkar to hold more detailed discussions on a possible alternative to the backstop -- the guarantee of a "soft" trade border between EU-aligned Ireland and British-held Northern Ireland after Britain departs the European Union.
Varadkar described the meeting as "very positive and very promising." He called for further negotiations.
"I do see a pathway towards an agreement in the coming weeks," he said. A spokesperson from Johnson's office said both leaders desire future talks.
"They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal."
Thursday's meeting occurred amid ongoing discussions in Belgium among Brexit leaders that include EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay. Talks on the issue broke down in Brussels Wednesday.
"[We are] not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement," Barnier said.
Barclay, who plans to meet with Barnier on Friday, said there's still hope for an agreement before two significant deadlines -- Oct. 19 and Oct. 31. British law requires Johnson to seek a three-month extension if no agreement between the EU and London exists by the 19th. Britain is scheduled to leave the 28-nation block on the 31st.
"We've put forward serious proposals and have been willing to be flexible," Barclay said. "Now it's time for the EU to do the same."
Johnson has proposed replacing the backstop with customs stations on each side of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, but it's an idea that's been wholly rejected by leaders in Dublin. The EU has also said the proposal is unworkable.