THE European Union has promised to "stand fully behind Ireland" regardless of the result of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was speaking in Dublin following talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this afternoon.
In a joint press conference with the Taoiseach at Government Buildings, Mr Barnier said he was confident "operational solutions" could still be found to manage the contentious Irish border issue.
"One thing is certain, whatever happens the EU will stand fully behind Ireland," Mr Barnier said.
"You have our full support".
A special summit of EU leaders will take place in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss UK Prime Minister Theresa May's request for another extension of the Brexit deadline.
The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on April 12, unless a delay is agreed.
Mr Barnier added that the border backstop arrangement remained the "only solution" to "maintain the status quo on the island of Ireland".
.@MichelBarnier & I discussed developments in the UK incl the cross party talks underway. Ireland is open to a further extension to allow these talks to come to a conclusion. However due to the ongoing uncertainty, we also continue to intensify our No deal #Brexit preparations pic.twitter.com/qpw3H98sre
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) 8 April 2019
He said he and Mr Varadkar had discussed planning being undertaken by the Republic of Ireland and the European Commission to manage the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Barnier also warned Britain that in case of a no-deal Brexit, the EU would not open trade talks until the question of the Irish border had been resolved.
"If the UK were to leave without a deal, let me be very clear, we would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement for Ireland, Northern Ireland as well as for citizen's rights and the financial settlement," he said.
Mr Varadkar said Ireland was open to extending the Brexit deadline to allow talks in the UK to reach their conclusion.
He said he sincerely hoped it would be possible to find consensus in Westminster, but that if a no-deal outcome occurred, it would be a "shared challenge" between Ireland and the EU.
"What we want to avoid is an extension that just allows for more indecision and more uncertainty," the Taoiseach said.
Good meeting with @MichelBarnier. Focused on approach to EU Council this week & No Deal #Brexit prep in Ireland. We agreed the need to protect peace and Ireland’s place in EU single market. No solution comes close to the benefits of the Backstop for Ire or NI. pic.twitter.com/WZHxTqtjD0
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) 8 April 2019
Mrs May has been locked in talks with Labour to try and achieve a cross-party deal to pass her Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament.
She is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.
Mr Barnier said he hoped for a "positive outcome" to those talks, while Mr Varadkar added: "A no-deal exit would be damaging for everyone.
"From Ireland's perspective, we are open to extending the deadline to allow these discussions to continue their course."
Mr Barnier also met Tánaiste Simon Coveney at the Department of Foreign Affairs earlier this afternoon.
The visit of the EU's chief Brexit negotiator - his fifth to Ireland throughout the Brexit discussions - came after the Taoiseach held bilateral meetings with French and German leaders last week.
Mrs Merkel said on Thursday that Germany would stand with Ireland "every step of the way" over Brexit.
Meanwhile, Mr Macron stressed: "We will never abandon Ireland or the Irish people no matter what happens, because this solidarity is the very purpose of the European project."