Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is “now absolutely convinced” the UK wants a Brexit deal – which is “possible” by 31 October – following talks with Boris Johnson.
The prime minister and his Irish counterpart met at Thornton Manor on the Wirral, Merseyside, for what their offices had billed as a “private meeting” ahead of next week’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Speaking after their talks, Mr Varadkar refused to give details of their meeting – or what proposals were discussed – but offered an upbeat assessment.
“I had a very good meeting today with the prime minister and our teams together – very positive and very promising,” he told reporters at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport.
“I am now absolutely convinced that both Ireland and Britain want there to be an agreement, that’s in the interests of Ireland, the UK and EU as a whole.
“And I do see a pathway towards an agreement in the coming weeks.”
The news caused a surge in the pound.
The Irish prime minister admitted there were still issues to be “fully resolved” – around the consent of Northern Irish voters for post-Brexit arrangements, as well as customs checks.
But he added: “I would hope what’s happened today will be sufficient to allow negotiations to resume in Brussels.”
Mr Varadkar stressed all sides want a UK-EU agreement to be reached at next week’s European Council summit.
He said: “It is possible for us 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.
“But there is many a slip between cup and lip and lots of things that are not in my control.”
Earlier, UK and Irish officials released a joint statement following what they described as a “detailed and constructive discussion”.
It read: “Both [Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar] 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.
“They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.”
Following their discussion, Mr Varadkar will consult with the EU’s Brexit taskforce, while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday morning.
The pound spiked following the pair’s joint statement, climbing by more than two cents to over $ 1.24 against the US dollar.
A small protest staged by pro-EU campaigners was seen outside the Thornton Manor venue as the two men met.
The conference and events centre had previously been best-known for hosting Coleen Rooney’s 21st birthday party, as well as the wedding venue of TV presenter Paddy McGuinness and his wife Christine Martin.
The statement from Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar appeared to offer a more hopeful verdict on the chances of a Brexit deal at next week’s EU summit than Mr Barnier had presented on Wednesday.
The EU official had told the European Parliament the UK and EU were “not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, ahead of the EU summit.
Ms Merkel spoke openly about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit on Thursday, saying: “We want to reduce the negative effects, even if there is a disorderly Brexit, in both countries.”
And Mr Macron also spoke of the UK possibly leaving the EU on 31 October without a withdrawal agreement.
“If they want to make a move which is compatible with what could be accepted by the 27, it is fine,” he said.
“If they don’t want to make any move or make something which is not accepted, they will have to take the responsibility.”
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, criticised as “anti-democratic” by the prime minister, 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 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.
Mr Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October “do or die”.
However, legislation passed by opposition MPs last month will compel him to seek an extension to the Article 50 period if he fails to secure a Brexit deal – or the House of Commons explicitly approves a no-deal Brexit – by 19 October.
Parliament will, rarely, sit on a Saturday that day following the conclusion of the previous day’s EU summit.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly promised not to delay Brexit beyond the end of this month.