Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would welcome an agreement on the Irish backstop to avoid a hard border in June if it were possible.

The overall deadline for the Withdrawal Agreement in the Brexit talks is October. The Irish Protocol contained within the Agreement will need to be agreed by both the EU and UK by then.

Speaking in Brussels at a two-day meeting of European Union leaders, Mr Varadkar rejected criticism by Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly that Ireland was losing its leverage over the Brexit process.

"The position being put across by Fianna Fáil on this has been very inconsistent," the Taoiseach said.  

"We’ve had everything from a Fianna Fáil motion at their Ard Fheis to have a hard border, to put in tolling gantries and so on, to them calling for us engage bilaterally with the UK, then telling us not to. So I think there’s a degree of politics there, nit-picking and having a go."

Mr Varadkar said Ireland had strong leverage in the negotiations.  

"Having rejected the backstop protocol out of hand only a couple weeks ago, the UK has now agreed to engage on that text, and we’ll be meeting at official level as early as Monday to work on that," he said.

He said Ireland had a firm commitment in the Joint Report agreed in December, which had been reaffirmed in a letter from British Prime Minister Theresa May to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council.  

The UK, he said, was now willing to engage on the text of the backstop the EU has put forward.

This morning the remaining members of the EU formally approved their joint negotiating stance on a future trade relationship with Britain after it leaves the bloc.

It comes together with an offer of a 21-month transition period to help business adapt after Brexit, due in March 2019, Mr Tusk said.

Earlier, Mr Donnelly said the Government has made "a very serious miscalculation" by allowing a backstop in the withdrawal agreement down the line on the Irish border. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said allowing the EU to move onto phase two of talks on trade will push the border issue down the agenda, Mr Donnelly said.

He said there has not been progress on the border issue, by the EU's own agreement.

The Wicklow TD said he did not know if the Taoiseach "was trying to be clever or was naive."

He said we need "clear wording locked down... something we do not have."

He added that the Government has a letter but no firm legal text to confirm an agreement.