Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said Ireland is ruling out any "key-hole surgery" on the Withdrawal Agreement and that the Irish Government would reject any unilateral exit clause or expiry date to the Irish backstop.

He added that Ireland would not be "steamrolled" as the Brexit process nears a potential no-deal scenario at the end of March.

Mr Coveney also raised Irish concerns with his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt this morning that Britain had been briefing against Ireland in European capitals over the backstop issue.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said: "The Tánaiste made it clear that any attempt to isolate Ireland as the problem in the Brexit process in European capitals would fail."

Last week, Mr Hunt told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper in Warsaw that all that was standing between the House of Commons supporting the Withdrawal Agreement was the Irish backstop.

"I agree that in December it was difficult to spot a solution," Mr Hunt told the paper last Thursday.

"Now, however, it is clear that the parliament will support the divorce deal in the current shape, with one exception - the backstop."

In an interview with RTÉ News, Mr Coveney said: "The responsibility to resolve this problem ... needs to lie where the problem is, which is in London, not Dublin.

"We would be very foolish if we allowed the onus to solve that problem to switch away from Westminster to Dublin.

"We will not be steamrolled in this process."

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said he was not suggesting that Mr Hunt was trying to isolate Ireland, but he had raised a general concern that Britain was pushing the onus on to Ireland to solve the problem.

Mr Coveney also said elements in Westminster were pushing to replace the backstop with "alternative arrangements" which, he said, were untested.

"Unless you can answer questions on what alternative arrangements actually are that can do the same job as the backstop then you can’t move on to alternative arrangements," he said.

The Tánaiste said that the review mechanism that already exists in the Withdrawal Agreement would test alternative arrangements before they are introduced.

"Unfortunately what some in London seem to be advocating for now is that we would talk about alternative arrangements and replace the backstop with those alternative arrangements without them standing up to scrutiny.

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"That is a very unreasonable ask," he said.

Mr Coveney held a one-hour meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team earlier this morning.

He said: "Their position is the same as ours: that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, that of course people want to find ways of giving clarity and reassurance to the British prime minister, to help her sell what is a sensible and pragmatic series of compromises that makes the Irish protocol and the Withdrawal Agreement.

"But certainly there is no appetite to reopen that agreement and that negotiation again."

Mr Coveney said Ireland was spending "hundreds of millions of euros" on preparing for a no-deal Brexit and it would be a "crazy outcome" after three years of EU-UK negotiations.

Mr Coveney said the European Union wanted to find ways to help UK parliamentary ratification of the Brexit deal, but that MPs' asks needed to be "reasonable".

Mr Barnier also met UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who is in Brussels with British attorney general Geoffrey Cox to prepare the ground for Mrs May to return.

"Productive conversations with @MichelBarnier, with a commitment to work together to solve the backstop. I'll update my colleagues in Cabinet tomorrow," Mr Barclay tweeted.

Wilson accuses Taoiseach of acting in 'abominable way'

Separately, DUP MP Sammy Wilson has accused the Taoiseach of acting "in an abominable way" during the negotiations on Brexit.

The DUP spokesperson on Brexit said Leo Varadkar has "ramped up the rhetoric" which he said has "not helped relations between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic".

Speaking on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live, Mr Wilson claimed the Taoiseach has previously said "electricity could get switched off in Northern Ireland, that planes from Britain would not be allowed to fly over the Irish Republic, that he was going to send troops to the Irish border, in fact he even talked about a Berlin Wall, that he would not erect a Berlin Wall along the Irish border".

Mr Wilson also said he believed "a no-deal scenario is going to be much more damaging to the Irish economy, than it will be to the UK economy".

He said "a small Irish economy will not be able to stand the impact of Britain leaving and the huge imports which Britain brings from Ireland being cut off".

On the proposed Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Wilson insisted "the agreement must be reopened and the backstop taken out of it".

He said the DUP "is united on the removal of the backstop and it being replaced with some other alternative arrangement.

"The change to the backstop is that it is no longer there and that it is replaced with something different."

Additional reporting: Reuters, Fergal O'Brien