Up to now Leo Varadkar has been that dapper figure, sitting tall, alone on a high chair at the bar counter, sipping sparkling water. This afternoon he entered the casino.

At 14.34 the message came from the Downing Street Press Office:

"Dear members of the media, please see a joint statement below from the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, following their meeting earlier today. This is for immediate release:

The Prime Minister and Taoiseach have had a detailed and constructive discussion.

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.

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."

A number of points to note immediately:

  • It is a joint statement.
  • Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar "agreed they could see a pathway to a possible deal".
  • Following the discussions, the Taoiseach will consult with the Taskforce 50 and the Brexit Secretary Stephen  Barclay will meet Michel Barnier tomorrow morning.

This amounts to a fascinating development. As the storm clouds continued to gather and the odds were increasing towards a UK crash out of the European Union, before or after a general election, optimism has suddenly reared its head again. In the Brexit drama that seems to have an inexhaustible supply of surprise twists, this is one more surprise.

Remember the standard lines of Irish cabinet members from the Taoiseach down - "of course the negotiations are done between the Brussels taskforce on behalf of the EU 27, Ireland included and the UK - we are not involved in negotiations with London?"  What has happened to that? 

At the very least, it is easy to see how some might wonder did Leo Varadkar become a proxy or a weather vane for the EU 27? And did Boris Johnson become a proxy for the most demanding element of his support base at Westminster, the awkward squad - the DUP 10?

Lots of photographs were issued from their gathering at a hotel on the outskirts of Liverpool. (Many were tweeted: Donald would approve). It seems that the gathering ran for three hours and that a significant amount of that time involved the two principals, Leo and Boris, alone together in a room.

"It could be that during their three hours together outside Liverpool and the behind the scenes preparations by their officials, they really have hit on something"

The Taoiseach's team included four of the key Brexit negotiating squad - Martin Fraser, Brian Murphy, John Callinan and Helen Blake. The heavy hitters on the British side, including Sir Ed Lister and John Bew, son of Paul Bew and a former professor of History and Foreign Policy in King's College London, would be familiar to them.

The reasons why such an upbeat news release was jointly issued are bound to emerge within 24 hours or before. London and Brussels leak. In London's case, usually for a purpose. In Brussels, it is often a byproduct of the need to keep too many players in the loop. So the information will emerge.

But if the first (delayed and overdue) visit by Boris to Dublin had the potential to be significant, the same can certainly be said about this development.

Finding a mechanism on how Stormont might have a role in the consent function around regulatory alignment between North and South should not be insurmountable. Arlene Foster used an important phrase that wasn't given the appropriate attention last week - "collegiality". What she was suggesting was if Stormont was up and running, in a new and more positive way, parties would have to find a way to bring the reputationally damaged show to a new place.

Did Leo and Boris really hit on something today?

But as the EU signalled and as RTÉ's Europe Editor Tony Connelly reported, the customs proposals offered by the British government didn't come close to the credibility/acceptability stages. So for there to be a "pathway to a deal", as both Leo and Boris agreed today, there must be the possibility of some solution to the customs question emerging.

If Boris goes too far, it will have to involve more flexibility by the DUP or else a decision by Boris to confront and drive past Arlene Foster and her 10 MPs. If Leo has indicated flexibility to accommodate UK red lines, the DUP ones included, he runs the risk of antagonising at least some EU member states, the EU taskforce and the European institutions.

It could be that during their three hours together outside Liverpool and the behind the scenes preparations by their officials, they really have hit on something. We will quickly know its potential. If EU officials and the British negotiators commit to discussions in "the Brussels tunnel" tomorrow, then the optimism will increase and the odds of a deal, currently lodged at no higher than 10 per cent, will start to move. The pound, sitting low down at 90p to the euro, might start to improve.

Build some Brexit watch time into your schedule next week. This "pathway to a possible deal" development will either disintegrate or gather momentum. EU leaders will be packing their finery for the Brussels summit.  And up North, the clock will be ticking in relation to the decriminalisation of abortion. If there is no Assembly in place by 21 October, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will take charge of arranging the termination of pregnancy measures that will apply after 1 April.

If, against all the odds, a Brexit deal was pulled out of the fire, could Stormont be revived by the 21 October deadline? Not one miracle but two.

Meanwhile, back in Dáil Éireann, where in contrast to Westminster there has been a shared analysis of the Brexit question, today's developments will be noted. The tall glass, with the ice and lemon and a mouthful of sparkling water, is on the bar counter. Leo has entered the casino. This is new. 

I wonder what does the man, who faithfully pursued Brexit when like-minded citizens were a minority in the Conservative Party, make of it all? Nigel Farage, good luck to him, is still a member of the European Parliament. I heard him mention on Radio 4 last week that he prefers to drive to Strasbourg, rather than take the train or fly. Nice one, Nigel. Keep those wheels turning.