Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar has said a Brexit deal could be delayed until December.
The Taoiseach said negotiations are continuing but admitted “no one knows for sure” when an agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom can be reached.
Mr Varadkar said the Irish government has been preparing for a no-deal scenario but added that officials “don’t believe” it is the likely outcome.
“We are hiring the necessary custom officials and making the necessary adaptations to the ports and airports that we need in a no-deal scenario, and also a deal scenario, because even a good deal will result in changes,” he said.
“The difference in a no-deal is that the changes will be greater and they won’t be quicker.
“The negotiations are still ongoing, we are at a sensitive phase and I know some people were optimistic about an agreement on the withdrawal agreement this week. I have to say I always thought that was unlikely, I figure November or December the best opportunity for a deal. This is a dynamic situation.
“We are always open to compromise, as the EU of course we are, but there are some fundamentals we can’t compromise on.”
He said the British government needs to honour its commitment to a backstop agreement which is legally operable and legally binding to ensure no hard border emerges on the island of Ireland.
Mr Varadkar added: “Any withdrawal agreement requires parliamentary ratification by the European Parliament and by Westminster, so we’ve always worked back from that timeline, and the view is that in order to meet that timeline we would have to have a deal before the end of the year.
“The initial target was October and that could be back to November.
“The possibility remains open to having an emergency summit in November if we can get to a deal.
“For all of us, but particularly the UK, the consequences of a no-deal Brexit at the end of March is potentially catastrophic. Really bad for Ireland, relatively bad for the EU, but quite a disaster for the UK, and I am sure that the British Government is motivated to make sure we don’t end up in a no-deal scenario.
“I spoke to Theresa May yesterday and she assured me of her commitment to getting a deal done and her commitment to honouring the commitment that they made on several occasions to having a backstop as part of the agreement and making sure it’s legally operable.”
Meanwhile, Irish presidential candidate Sean Gallagher said he “could not even begin to countenance” the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland post-Brexit.
The former Ireland’s Dragons’ Den star said he had first-hand experience of how “very intimidating” crossing a militarised border could be and he was “very fearful” for young people should a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland be reinstated.