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Ireland will not stand in way if UK requests article 50 extension – Coveney

Tanaiste Simon Coveney on stage at the Global Ireland 2025: Making it Happen conference, at the Dublin Castle Conference Centre. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday January 8, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

By Cate McCurry and Aoife Moore, Press Association

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister has said the country will not stand in the way if the British Government asks for an extension to Article 50.

Simon Coveney said they want to avoid a no-deal Brexit scenario as "everyone loses".

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, he said: "The (Withdrawal) Agreement was a compromise on both sides.

"We want to continue to advocate for that deal and provide where possible the reassurance and clarifications that may be needed in Westminster to have that deal ratified.

"If it is the case that in some point in the future the British Government seeks an extension of Article 50, that will have to have EU approval, but that is not something we would stand in the way of.

"All focus now needs to be on the deal and providing clarifications on the detail of that deal."

His comments come after he warned the British Government that time for "wishful thinking" is over if it wants to avoid crashing out of the European Union.

The Tanaiste was addressing ambassadors and dignitaries attending the Global Ireland 2025 Heads of Mission Conference on Tuesday morning.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also attended the event at Dublin Castle.

Ahead of a vote on Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement in Westminster next week, Mr Coveney said there is no alternative to the agreement "waiting to be dusted off".

He said: "It is also wishful thinking to ignore the default outcome if nothing else is agreed - that default is a crash-out."

Mr Coveney said: "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.

"If that doesn't happen quickly, in the absence of that realism, it is the hardliners who think no price is too high to pay for their version of Brexit who will win out to everyone's cost, including Ireland's."

The concept of the backstop - an agreement governing the customs status of the Ireland/Northern Ireland border in the event that Britain and the EU cannot agree a long-term relationship by the end of 2021 - has been the main sticking point preventing Mrs May's Withdrawal Agreement from being passed by Parliament.

It is opposed by a hardline group of MPs from her own Tory Party, as well as their Democratic Unionist Party allies.

Mr Coveney said these are "fateful days and weeks" in British politics.

"I remain convinced that there is a majority in the UK Parliament which will do all it can to avert a disastrous crash-out Brexit," he added.

"I am also of the view that the deal obtained by Prime Minister May - which, in relation to the famous backstop, was significantly modified to address UK concerns - that that deal is fundamentally a good one.

"Once the decision to proceed with leaving the EU was taken, it was important to move ahead in a way which protected the UK's economy and the peace process in Northern Ireland. And this deal, the very best available, achieves those vital goals.

"The European Council provided reassurances about the backstop in December and we are ready to provide additional clarifications if these are helpful.

"However, we cannot re-open the Withdrawal Agreement text itself, which was the product of multiple compromises and highly detailed negotiations in a very wide range of areas."

Mr Maas told members of the press that he will "not give up hope" ahead of next week's crucial vote at Westminster.

"I believe that we are dealing with a fair compromise," he said.

"Because if we end up with the situation where Theresa May has no majority, we have a very difficult situation."

Mr Maas, who also spoke at the event, said there is "too much at stake to take this lightly" adding that a border in Ireland is "unacceptable".

"During the Brexit negotiations all 27 member states agreed on a position and stood by it, including full solidarity behind Ireland," he said.

"Avoiding a hard border is a fundamental concern."

Mr Maas added: "A second takeaway from Brexit is that we must not take our rules-based international order for granted.

"For the Irish, nationalism does not mean taking back control, as Brexiteers claim.

"A willingness to compromise and a common set of rules lie at the heart of our European success story."