Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that without a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement it would become difficult to prevent border infrastructure in Ireland.

He was speaking after European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Ireland would see a new "hard border" if the UK failed to approve a Brexit withdrawal deal with the European Union by 29 March.

Mr Coveney said that what the European Commission said today reflected the desire to protect the integrity of the single market, but the Government would not accept or plan for a hard border in Ireland.

The Government is working to prevent a hard border and it remained a strong advocate for a backstop, Mr Coveney stated, adding that people talking against the backstop had an onus to come up with solutions.

The Government will publish the outline of its hard Brexit plans legislation on Friday.

Mr Coveney said all the departments have come forward with their particular parts of the legislation. 

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said his department would have legislation that looks at areas such as financial services and taxation.

Earlier, Mr Schinas said he had heard nothing new since British Prime Minister Theresa May laid out a tweaked divorce plan yesterday.

"If you'd like me to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it is pretty obvious: you will have a hard border," he said.

Mr Schinas also expressed frustration as journalists questioned him over the next steps in the negotiation.

"In all honesty, I have a terrible sense of déjà vu in all these exchanges," he said. "There is nothing else that I can meaningfully say."

Mrs May yesterday promised to seek changes to the accord to push back the prospect of Europe invoking a backstop clause that would keep Britain in the EU customs union.

"I will not now speculate on this Plan B because, as I said seconds ago, we are for Plan A, which is set by the Withdrawal Agreement," Mr Schinas said.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was "very concerning" that Mrs May had not removed the option of a no-deal from the table.

Speaking in Dublin, she said: "As each day and as each week passes, we come perilously closer to the prospect or at least the possibility of a crash Brexit."

She said that it was a scenario that could happen as much by accident as by design.


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Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the EU was still waiting for Brexit proposals from London.

"We are all Irish for the moment," Mr Reynders also told reporters of the EU's unity with Ireland on the contentious issue of the border after Brexit.

Austria's foreign minister has distanced the EU from a suggestion by her Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz that the backstop could be limited to five years to allow a deal to pass the UK parliament.

Karin Kneissl said she had spoken to Mr Coveney at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday, and he made it clear "Ireland belongs to the 27" and "anything that was negotiated by commissioner Michel Barnier was part of the position that Ireland was part of".

She added: "We were all taken by surprise when the Polish minister made his statement.

"We have had cohesion and we wish to continue having cohesion on the EU 27 position, so the statement by our Polish colleague came as a surprise, but I don't believe that it will cause some sort of breakthrough, certainly not because if we start having all kinds of bilateral suggestions it doesn't lead us anywhere."

Meanwhile, the UK's Brexit minister Stephen Barclay has suggested that European politicians might not all support an extension to Article 50 if the UK asked for one.

He said: "It is not in the unilateral gift of the UK to extend. There are practical issues.

"I think that (support for an extension) is an over-simplification because there are many in the European Parliament and elsewhere that are concerned about an extension in terms of the impact.

"There are many in Brussels that are concerned about the prospect of an extension in terms of the interplay with the European parliamentary elections, because you couldn't pass the legislation in the UK for a referendum ... in the time before the end of May.

"But also from the EU point of view, they have been very clear that they don't want an extension with no purpose and so we come back to the issue as to what it is MPs are for and just what they are against."

Additional Reporting PA