The Taoiseach has reiterated that there will not be an agreement on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union without a backstop.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Leo Varadkar said he looked forward to meeting and congratulating new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said he looked forward to getting the measure of the man and hear from him what his plans are.

Mr Varadkar also said that alternative arrangements to the backstop "don’t really exist".

It comes after the Tánaiste said that yesterday was a very bad day from the prospective of Brexit negotiations.

Simon Coveney said comments by Mr Johnson seem designed to set the UK on a collision course with the European Union and his approach is not the basis for an agreement.

Mr Coveney was speaking following a meeting with new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith in Belfast.

This was the first engagement between British and Irish government ministers since Mr Johnson took over as prime minister in London on Wednesday.

"The statements of the British Prime Minister yesterday in the House of Commons were very unhelpful to this process," Mr Coveney said.

"He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations, and I think only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that."

Mr Johnson has responded by saying the UK does not want checks at the Irish border but that it will leave the EU on 31 October.

"I want to say to our Irish friends, and what we've said repeatedly, is under no circumstances will the UK be instituting any kind of checks at the frontier in Northern Ireland.

Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Johnson also ruled holding a general election before 31 October, saying it would "absolutely not" happen.

"The British people voted in 2015, in 2016, in 2017," he said.

"What they want us to do is deliver on their mandate to come out of the EU on October the 31st they don't want another electoral event. They don't want a referendum. They don't want a general election. They want us to deliver on Brexit"

Meanwhile, Mr Smith has said the British government was not on a collision course with the European Union.

"I don't think we're on a collision course. I think we need to find solutions particularly for the issue of the border, but the prime minister was very, very clear to his cabinet yesterday that he wants to get a deal done," he said.

Earlier, Mr Johnson's spokesman said the UK is ready to begin talks with the EU on Brexit, but is clear-eyed about what the basis for those discussions is.

He said Mr Johnson will also note that the Withdrawal Agreement needs to be reopened and the backstop abolished, and that in all calls with EU leaders he will stress the desire for a deal.

The spokesman said the prime minister has spoken with political leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and stressed the importance of UK unity.

Mr Coveney described his meeting with the NI Secretary as useful and said all parties want to make the devolved government work in Northern Ireland and hopes parties will reach a deal sooner rather than later.

Mr Smith also held a series of separate meetings with the five main parties in Belfast.

Speaking afterwards, the UUP's Doug Beattie said: "He does need time to put his feet under the table, but he doesn't have a lot of time, he doesn't have weeks, he can't sit there and pontificate about what his next move is.

"He needs to ramp up the talks process and give a very clear structure to that talks process, and he needs to give us a direction of travel, which we have been sadly lacking over the last few months and weeks.

"We made it absolutely clear to him that no matter what his relationship is with the DUP, he cannot be a sop to their tantrums and cannot be meek and mild in front of Sinn Féin's intransigence. He needs to bang their hands together."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "We have stepped through all of the issues with him and obviously the outstanding rights issues and the issues that need to be resolved to ensure that the institutions can be restored, and that, crucially, we can deliver inclusive, sustainable and good government for every citizen living in this part of Ireland.

"He is aware of the issues, he is aware that they have been well rehearsed. He's aware that this process of talks and negotiations has, to use his term, ebbed and flowed.

"He's also aware that it needs to pick up momentum, that it can't go on forever.

"He has committed that he will deal with all of the parties on the basis of equality and impartiality."  

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "We set out for him very clearly how we see things in Northern Ireland, the importance of getting an Executive restored, the difficulty of doing that in the context of Brexit and now the rumours of a general election.

"We have also been very candid about the impact of a no-deal Brexit, not just economically but politically and socially.

"We made it clear that Theresa May finally realised that was not a prospect which would work in terms of Northern Ireland and we now need him to be stressing that reality to the Prime Minister."

DUP leader Arlene Foster spoke to Mr Smith by telephone as she was "unable" to be in Belfast.

"I am glad that Julian Smith has taken an early opportunity to engage with local parties," Mrs Foster said.

"The biggest single issue facing Northern Ireland is the ongoing need to have decisions made which impact on our schools, roads and hospitals.

"I assured the Secretary of State that we will work earnestly to have the institutions restored. We have not placed any red-lines or pre-conditions to an Executive being formed.

"I want to see devolution restored and decisions taken locally in Northern Ireland.

"If that does not happen, then it will be necessary for all decisions to be taken at Westminster." 


Who is the new Northern Ireland Secretary?

Julian Smith has been an MP for Skipton and Ripon in Yorkshire since 2010 and has previously focused on rural issues, education, business and international development concerns.

He has previously campaigned for a fairer funding formula for rural schools and was involved in bringing the Tour de France Grand Depart to the UK.

Prior to becoming an MP, he was an entrepreneur, working in executive recruitment.

He grew up in Stirling in Scotland and read history and English at the University of Birmingham, earlier educated at a local comprehensive.

Additional reporting PA