Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the DUP wants a Brexit deal just as much as the Irish Government does.

Mr Varadkar travelled to Belfast today to meet each of the five main Stormont parties.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One news, Mr Varadkar said: "In terms of my engagement with the DUP which as everyone understands has influence over the British government, I think there's more that unites us than divides us when it comes to Brexit.

"They don't want a hard border any more than I do. They want a deal just as much as I do and as the Irish Government does and they want to be able to maintain free and frictionless trade, not just North-South, but also east-west between Britain and Ireland and I think very often when you share all the major objectives it's possible to come to a solution but obviously that has to be negotiated and can only be negotiated between the European Union on one side, including the Irish Government and the UK on the other and that's the only way these negotiations can take place," said Mr Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar will return to Dublin later this evening for discussions with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

After meeting the Taoiseach, DUP leader Arlene Foster was asked to comment on a BBC report that quoted several unnamed members of the UK cabinet suggesting a poll on Irish unification would be likely in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"There are many people engaging in 'project fear' at this point in time and we all have to recognise that," said Mrs Foster.

"The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement sets out the criteria for a border poll and it hasn't been satisfied and therefore will not be called."

She said the meeting with Mr Varadkar had been positive, insisting she was focused on helping find a deal that suited the UK and EU.

"We want to get a deal, that's what we are engaged in at the minute - trying to get a deal that will be acceptable to members in the House of Commons, because you can only get an agreement when both sides agree and at the moment you only have the European Union agreeing with what's on the table," she said.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said the Taoiseach assured her he was committed to the backstop and the Withdrawal Agreement.

She insisted her party would hold him to his word.

"I think the Taoiseach has remained firm throughout the negotiation in recognising the need to protect Irish interests, in recognising the need to make sure that citizens in the north are never left behind," she said.

"He restated that commitment to us today.

"At the end of the day we will hold the Taoiseach's feet to the fire on the issue."


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Alliance leader Naomi Long said she and her party colleague Stephen Farry had a very constructive discussion with the Taoiseach.

"It's fairly clear following that those that have been suggesting there is some chance of the UK government and the Irish Government doing some kind of side deal without the EU are chasing after a no-way scenario," she said.

"It's clear the Irish Government and their commitment to the EU stands firm and it is clear that that is where they see their future.

"So the only way we are going to resolve the issues around the border is not by leaning on the Irish Government to change their position, but by dealing with the reality that if the UK government opts for regulatory realignment away from EU standards, then there will be some form of hard border.

"In order to avoid that, the UK government has two choices, they can either align with the EU, and they can do that on a UK-wide basis, we would be quite happy with that.

"That negates the need for any hard border and it allows us to continue to access the Customs Union and to a greater degree the single market.

"If they don't want to do that, then they have got to get a special deal for Northern Ireland that allows us to have regulatory alignment, north and south, and prevents a hard border on the island. Everything else is simply off the table at this stage.

"And it's really important with such a little amount of time left in these negotiations that people focus on what is real and what is achievable," said Ms Long.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he felt reassured that the Irish Government and the EU are standing with the people of Northern Ireland.

"We just had a good meeting with the Taoiseach and his officials, we are on the same side on this argument.

"We have been watching with some dismay what has been going on at Westminster over the last couple of months. We are reassured today that the Irish Government and European Union are standing with the people of Northern Ireland - the majority of people who don't want to be dragged out of the European Union and who definitely don't want to see a hard border on this island," he said.

"So we are reassured that the Taoiseach and the European Union will continue to stand against any moving backwards in our peace process and political progress, and I hope for once and for all that in the heart of Westminster, that the Prime Minister and the leadership of the Labour Party finally understand that we need to protect our citizens here and show some real political maturity and leadership," said Mr Eastwood.

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken, a member of his party delegation that met the Taoiseach, expressed concern that political language being used around the backstop was ramping up tensions to the extent that it might incite violence.

"That's not where we should be right now, we should be looking for much more level-headed conversations," he said.

"What we said to the Taoiseach fairly clearly is we need to de-dramatise the conservation that's going on and Ireland needs to consider very carefully what it's going to do to make sure we are actually going to get a deal that comes across."

He said the UUP was committed to working for a deal.

"A no-deal will not work for Northern Ireland, it will not work for the United Kingdom, it will not work for the Republic of Ireland and it will not work for the EU," said Mr Aiken.

"We need to move on and he (the Taoiseach) and all the key people in this need to be much more pragmatic about what we are trying to do." 

Earlier, the Taoiseach was asked about Ms Foster's response to comments made by European Parliament President Donald Tusk this week.

Mr Tusk said in Brussels on Wednesday: "I've been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely."

Ms Foster accused Mr Tusk of being "deliberately provocative", saying it was clear "the pressure is beginning to mount in Brussels".

The Taoiseach said people should not forget some of the political rhetoric that has been directed at the European Union.

"It is only months ago that people in the UK government were comparing the EU to communism," he said.

"There has been a lot of rhetoric coming from a lot of quarters and I think the best thing to do is rise above it."

Additional reporting: PA