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Boris Johnson is set for a private meeting with the Irish taoiseach on Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to come to a Brexit compromise over Northern Ireland, after talks came to a sudden halt in Brussels.

Johnson and Leo Varadkar have opted to meet on “neutral” territory in the north-west of England rather than Dublin or London, as negotiations enter a make-or-break phase ahead of next week’s EU summit.

Varadkar said on Wednesday he was willing to examine how the people of Northern Ireland could give their consent to arrangements to avoid a hard border.

But he went on: “Part of the difficulty at the moment though is it is the position of the UK government that Northern Ireland must leave the EU customs union and be part of the UK customs union, no matter what the people of Northern Ireland think. That’s their position at the moment, and that’s the one that’s of grave difficulty to us.”

Downing Street banned media from attending the talks and refused to disclose where they were taking place.

No 10 was insisting on Wednesday that the prospect of a deal is still possible, with plans being made to let parliament sit on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands war to vote on any possible deal that emerges out of the EU summit on 19 October. Read more

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