Avoiding hard border in no-deal Brexit 'very difficult'

British prime minister Theresa May leaves the British Residence in Brussels to return to the UK without attending the second day of the EU Council Summit  
David Young, Press Association

Avoiding a hard border in Ireland in a no-deal Brexit scenario will be very difficult, the Republic's European affairs minister has said.

Helen McEntee said the risk of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement remained "very strong", but insisted the Republic was still not planning for border checks.

Ms McEntee said the Dublin government would only enter into negotiations with the UK and EU Commission on how a future border would work when, or if, it became clear that a no-deal is the only option.

"If a no-deal scenario is the only option left and looking like that is going to happen, then we need to sit down with the Commission and with the UK and we need to understand and work with each other, and essentially this is negotiation as to how we can avoid borders on the island of Ireland and, be under no illusion, it's very difficult without a deal," she told RTÉ Radio One.

"We are not planning for a hard border and we have always said that.

"When it gets to the point, and if it gets to the point, and we hope it does not, that if a no-deal scenario is the only likely and possible outcome then we need to engage with the UK and with the Commission as to how we would do that, but until that happens we will not be planning for a border."

She said the prospect of the UK having to participate in European elections if the Withdrawal Agreement was not passed could "focus minds" at Westminster.

"I do believe that things are changing, I do believe the fact there is a very clear date of the European elections will focus people's minds," she said.

"I don't know if this will pass next week, I don't know if minds are focused enough on this, but I do believe that we now have a very specific timeline and I think we now need to give the Prime Minister the time to try and see what she is doing next, and obviously if the Withdrawal Agreement can be passed in the House of Commons."

Ms McEntee's government colleague Regina Doherty said she remained positive that a Brexit deal could be agreed during the "Flextension" period.

Social Protection minister Ms Doherty said in the meantime the Dublin government would continue to ready itself to absorb the impacts of a no-deal.

"We will continue to prepare for a no-deal Brexit," she said.

"That's because we don't know what's going to happen and the outcome of the next few weeks. But we remain positive.

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