By James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline
Published: 07:48 BST, 10 October 2019 | Updated: 08:02 BST, 10 October 2019
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Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar will hold 'last chance' Brexit talks today as the clock runs down on Brexit wrangling.
In a crucial moment, the PM and the Irish Taoiseach will meet face-to-face in Cheshire at lunchtime to try and find a way through the deadlock.
The media has been shut out of the event in a bid to maximise the chances of a breakthrough.
But hopes are not high on either side, with the Irish backstop still a major dividing line and rhetoric escalating dramatically. The EU has set tomorrow as the deadline for an outline agreement to be reached in time for a summit next week.
Mr Johnson yesterday insisted he was still ‘cautiously, cautiously optimistic’ despite the deepening gloom. However, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt launched an extraordinary attack on Mr Johnson, branding him a ‘traitor’.
Boris Johnson (left in Downing Street this week) is meeting Leo Varadkar (right) for crunch talks in Cheshire later
He accused the Prime Minister of attempting to orchestrate a ‘blame game’, saying that he was ‘the real traitor’ of his countrymen. Last night European Council chief Donald Tusk twisted the knife by mocking the ‘permanent parliamentary crisis’ in the UK.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also struck a downbeat tone in a speech to the European Parliament, telling MEPs that as it stands ‘we’re not really in a position where we’re able to find an agreement’.
Technical talks on Mr Johnson’s proposed alternative for the backstop – which involves Northern Ireland staying aligned to EU regulations – seem to have stalled completely. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is meeting Michel Barnier in Brussels later, but they are said to be 'taking stock' rather than seeking major movement.