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Irish foreign minister: 'Ireland will not stand in way of Article 50 extension'

Edmund Heaphy
Ireland Correspondent
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the time for wishful thinking was over. Photo: PA

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney on Tuesday said that Ireland would not stand in the way of an Article 50 extension, should prime minister Theresa May request one.

“If such an ask happens and is justified, we won’t be standing in the way of that,” Coveney said.

While he was responding to reports that British officials have been “putting out feelers” to the European Union for an extension to the Article 50 negotiation period, he also noted that May had made it clear that she was not planning to seek such an extension.

READ MORE: Britain is not planning to extend Article 50, Brexit Secretary says

Speaking in Dublin alongside German foreign minister Heiko Maas, Coveney also called on UK politicians to back May’s deal, warning that the default outcome if prime minister Theresa May cannot get her deal passed is a “crash-out” Brexit.

“One thing is certain: The time for wishful thinking is over,” Coveney said.

Maas similarly warned that those who thought they could strengthen the UK’s hand by rejecting May’s deal were running a “tremendous risk.”

“I wouldn’t really want to think about the possibility of extending Article 50 here and now,” Maas said.

“There is no alternative 585-page agreement waiting to be dusted off,” Coveney warned, calling it “wishful thinking” to ignore that the UK crashing out of the European Union is “the default outcome if nothing else is agreed.”

“Surely now is the time in Westminster for everyone, in government and in opposition, to cast aside unrealistic options based on promises that simply cannot be delivered.”

Their comments came after Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said that the UK and EU were in close contact to determine whether “a further set” of written guarantees, explanations and assurances could help May get her deal passed in parliament.

“We don’t want to trap the UK into anything. We want to get onto the talks about the future relationship right away,” Varadkar said.

Referencing the issue of the border in Northern Ireland, which has vexed Brexit negotiations, Maas said that EU member states were in “full solidarity with Ireland.” 

Coveney with German foreign minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday. Photo: PA

We insisted and still do that a hard border dividing the Irish island is unacceptable. Some people call us stubborn.”

Germany, he noted, understands how “walls and borders can threaten peace”.

“Avoiding a hard border in Ireland is a fundamental concern,” he said, considering how the purpose of the European Union was to “build and maintain peace in Europe.”

Coveney said that the EU would try to provide May “the reassurance and the assistance that she is looking for” to give her Brexit deal “the best possible chance of ratification in the British parliament.”

Coveney and Maas were speaking on the second day of the Global Ireland conference in Dublin Castle, the former seat of British rule in Dublin, to members of Ireland’s 83 diplomatic missions around the world.

The conference is the centrepiece of the Global Ireland 2025 plan, which aims to double Ireland’s cultural, diplomatic and economic footprint by 2025.

On Monday, Hollywood actress Ruth Negga was among five cultural ambassadors appointed by the country as part of the plan.