Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have met for last-ditch Brexit talks in a bid to break the deadlock as the departure deadline looms and progress with the EU falters.
The PM and his Irish counterpart held what was described as a “private meeting” at a luxury wedding venue on the Wirral peninsula to “allow detailed discussions” on the process for securing an agreement.
Afterwards, they released a joint statement that described the discussion as “detailed and constructive”.
It stated: “Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody's interest.
“They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal. Their discussion concentrated on the challenges of customs and consent.
“They also discussed the potential to strengthen bilateral relations, including on Northern Ireland.”
The statement concluded: “They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.
“Following their discussions, the Taoiseach will consult with the Taskforce 50 and the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet Michel Barnier tomorrow morning.”
The Taoiseach acknowledged ahead of the discussion that it will be “very difficult” to secure a deal by next week.
Mr Johnson wants to keep Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the EU than the rest of the UK on rules on goods and agriculture, but remove it from the current customs union.
But Mr Varadkar is opposed to the Republic being in a different customs union from Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there was still no basis for a fresh agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.
He said they had yet to see any “operational, legally binding solution” to the issue of the backstop ahead of next week’s European Council meeting.
Mr Johnson’s “two borders” proposals, he said, were based on a system “that hasn’t been properly developed, that hasn’t been tested”.
Mr Johnson must bring back a deal before 19 October if he is to avoid a clash over the Benn Act, which aims to prevent a no-deal departure.
The legislation orders the PM to ask for a delay to Article 50 until the end of January if MPs do not approve a deal before that date.
But he has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay, while insisting that he will abide by the law.
On Thursday, business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar remain “seriously focused” on trying to get a deal, and he believes a “good chance” of securing one remains.
But former chancellor Philip Hammond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the PM’s proposal “is not going to fly, was never going to fly”.
Mr Hammond, who was among the 21 Tory rebels expelled by the PM, also ruled out granting Mr Johnson’s wish by voting for an early general election.
“I don’t think an election solves our problem here,” he added.
Mr Johnson is planning an emergency Saturday sitting of Parliament following the summit, to be held on 19 October, according to Government sources.
It is thought the PM could use the occasion to force a showdown with MPs determined to block a no-deal Brexit.