The relief was palpable. The important people in Government Buildings were extremely nervous this week.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s meetings with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris and German chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin were “high risk”.
Both Macron and Merkel have made it clear in recent weeks they are not satisfied with the lack of plans from the Irish Government as to how it intends to protect the integrity of the EU single market should the UK crash out in the coming days.
Varadkar returned home from Paris unscathed and all eyes turned to what Merkel would say on Thursday. In Farmleigh, her expressions of commitment to the Peace Process and the reaffirmation of her support for the Irish stance was welcome to say the least.
One minister old me yesterday:
Everybody is greatly relieved. This was high-risk stuff from Leo and people were very worried as to what she would say.
Yet both Simon Coveney and Varadkar made clear a no-deal crash out would be disastrous for Ireland. Coveney warned that the solutions for a no-deal scenario will actually “be quite impactful and very negative” for the functioning of an all-island economy.
“Even though we would do everything we can do to protect the peace process and we, of course, want to prevent that kind of scenario happening which is why if we need more time, so be it,” he said.
They were commenting after it was confirmed Theresa May wrote to EU president Donald Tusk to seek a further extension until June 30, despite that deadline already being ruled out.
Mrs May said she will seek to secure ratification of the deal before European elections on May 23 but will make “responsible preparations” for the UK to take part in the polls if that does not prove possible.
May’s request was pitched amid ongoing talks between her Government and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and that a chance must be given to allow them to conclude.
Asked about May’s request for an extension to June 30, the Taoiseach replied: “It’s something we’re going to have to consider. We have a European Council meeting next Wednesday, and that will be an opportunity for us to hear from Prime Minister May, and also to consider the United Kingdom’s request for a further extension.”
But he warned: “We also want to avoid rolling extensions, where there’s an extension every couple of weeks or every couple of months. That just adds to the uncertainty for citizens, businesses, and farmers.”
Hardline Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the European Research Group (ERG), said Britain should be “as difficult as possible” in the event of a long extension and criticised French president Emmanuel Macron.
“If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible. We could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army and block Mr Macron’s integrationist schemes,” he tweeted.
Labour too appeared to be cool on the idea of an extension.
Mrs May will once again face down her EU counterparts next Wednesday and once again hopes will be pinned on common sense prevailing. Unfortunately, there is little sign of that right now.