What does the Johnson-Varadkar Brexit statement mean?

Andrew Sparrow dissects the leaders’ joint statement to find no one is ready to give up yet

Leo Varadkar (R) and Boris Johnson go for a walk before their meeting.
On the same path? Leo Varadkar (R) and Boris Johnson go for a walk before their meeting. Photograph: Leo Varadkar/PA

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar have emerged from their meeting saying “they could see a pathway to a possible deal”. Here we take a look at what their joint statement said, and what it might mean.

The prime minister and taoiseach have had a detailed and constructive discussion.

“Detailed” and “constructive” are the key words, and are positive.

Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest. They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.

The first sentence does not amount to much, because it is what all sides have always said from the moment the Brexit talks started. The second sentence is the most significant, and the one that has sent the pound upwards. It is more positive than people were expecting, and implies that the Brexit talks are now at least off their deathbed.

Does it mean much more than that? We don’t know. It is worth noting that there are two qualifiers in this sentence: “They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.”

Does it mean they are both looking at the same path? No one has ever had problems imagining a possible deal, or a pathway to it. The trouble has been finding one acceptable to all veto players in this process: the EU, Ireland, parliament, the Conservative party, the European Research Group of hardline Tory Brexiters and the Democratic Unionist party.

Their discussion concentrated on the challenges of customs and consent.

That is no surprise, because these are the two main features of Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan identified as unacceptable by Dublin and Brussels.

They also discussed the potential to strengthen bilateral relations, including on Northern Ireland.

It is not clear what this refers to, although the UK government quite often talks about the desirability of improving bilateral relations with Dublin, particularly when they are under strain.

They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.

This sentence is positive: “reflect further” means no one will be pulling the plug on the talks process today, and the reference to officials implies they have some new ideas to discuss.

Following their discussions the taoiseach will consult with the taskforce 50, and the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, will meet [the EU’s chief negotiator] Michel Barnier tomorrow morning.

Barclay and Barnier were originally due to meet on Thursday, but that meeting got put back until Friday. There were some suggestions that, if today went badly, it would be cancelled. The fact it is going ahead means neither side wants to give up yet.