The chances of sealing a deal on Britain's withdrawal from the European Union this month are fading, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday.
EU leaders had previously penciled in a summit for mid-November to sign off on any Brexit deal with London. Negotiators from both sides, however, remain at odds over ways to guarantee there is no return of border controls on the frontier between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
"I do think that, with every day that passes, the possibility of having a special summit in November becomes less likely," Varadkar told reporters after meeting Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila.
"But we do have one scheduled for the 13th, 14th of December, so not getting it done in November doesn't mean we can't get it done in the first two weeks of December. But I think beyond that you're into the New Year, which I think wouldn't be a good thing."
Brussels has proposed a "backstop" arrangement as part of the withdrawal agreement that would ensure an open border by keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU customs union and large parts of the single market. Britain has complained this would create a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Varadkar spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday, agreeing that any backstop should be temporary. May also told him that there would need to be a mechanism to end it.
"For me, it's always about the objective, more so than the mechanism - what are you actually trying to achieve," Varadkar said on Wednesday. "We hope that the backstop will never need to be used, it is an insurance policy.
Varadkar said he was willing to consider a review clause attached to the backstop, but this could not allow Britain to withdraw unilaterally and leave a hard border.
Varadkar is in Helsinki attending the two-day congress of the European People's Party. (Reuters)