The challenges of Covid-19 have made Brexit more complicated and raised the stakes, while the outlook for the next phase of negotiations is "not good", the Tánaiste has said.
Speaking in the Dáil, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said he could not say whether the UK would ask for an extension of Brexit negotiations beyond June 30, however much he personally believes it is needed.
Mr Coveney added that calling for an extension was "the easy option" given the UK government's position that it does not want one. He said that it was necessary to plan to "protect Irish interests" on the basis that an extension will not be forthcoming.
"Time is tight, even more so given the challenges Covid-19 imposes," he said. "There have been calls for an extension to the transition period, including from significant sectors in the UK.
Under the withdrawal agreement such a decision, which is one to be made jointly between the EU and the UK, must be taken by June 30. At this stage, it is not helpful to speculate," he said.
"The challenges we face in the context of Covid-19 make Brexit even more complicated in some ways. It also raises the stakes even higher, if they were not high enough already.
"The idea that we would knowingly allow a second significant negative impact on our economy and our trading opportunities with our closest neighbour after the impact of Covid-19, which has been and will continue to be significant, by not managing to agree a sensible trading arrangement between the EU and the UK is something that will focus minds in the months ahead."
The Tánaiste said that the outlook for the next round of negotiations was "not good", but he was hopeful that now that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was back to full health following his bout with the illness that negotiations would progress.
Mr Coveney's comments come as EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said that the UK would "blame Covid-19" for “all the fallout from Brexit”.
Speaking on RTÉ radio's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, Mr Hogan said: "I am afraid we are only making very slow progress in the Brexit negotiations."
Commissioner Hogan added: “I think that the United Kingdom politicians and government have certainly decided that Covid is going to be blamed for all the fallout from Brexit and my perception of it is they don't want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame Covid for everything.”