'Port borders the best way to protect single market' - Leo
A fresh battle between the UK and Ireland is looming after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted a border down the Irish Sea is back on the table as part of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Varadkar is canvassing support among European leaders for an approach that ensures no hard border between the North and the Republic, but puts the pressure back on the UK government to abandon the DUP's "red lines".
The risky ploy was discussed by the Taoiseach during his meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris yesterday.
In a clear swipe at Westminster, Mr Macron warned: "If the UK isn't capable - almost three years after the referendum - of putting forward a solution that gets a majority, it will have decided itself, de facto, to leave without a deal, and we can't avoid that failure in place of the UK."
He added that France sees Ireland very differently.
"We'll never abandon Ireland and the Irish people, because that solidarity is the very sense of the European project," he said.
After the meeting, Mr Varadkar claimed he was the person to bring up the difficult question of how Ireland will protect the EU's single market if the UK crashes out.
Earlier, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said "options" for having checks away from the actual border were being probed.
Asked to outline these options, Mr Varadkar said none of them involve physical infrastructure.
"Some things, we know can be done electronically, and remotely, like the collection of taxes and tariffs - other things we know can't," he said.
"Physical inspections, animal inspections have to be done somewhere, and the backstop proposes that they be done at the ports, the ports in Northern Ireland. That is the right and best place for them," he said.
Pressed for more detail, he replied: "A lot of it will depend on the approach the UK takes and whether they will cooperate with the possibility of checks happening at the ports in Northern Ireland."
Mr Varadkar said Ireland must protect the single market because "it's in our interest".
He said our economic model is "dependent on us staying a member of the single market and customs union".
Mr Varadkar added: "In the unlikely event that we have a no-deal and the UK were to do trade deals with the US or China and we had chlorinated chicken or hormone beef, or products made by child labour in Asian countries, the last thing we would want is that coming south of the border into the Republic of Ireland.
"We certainly wouldn't want it getting through the Republic of Ireland into the EU."
In London, prime minister Theresa May said yesterday she would ask the EU for a further delay to Brexit beyond April 12 to give her time to sit down with the opposition Labour Party in a bid to break the impasse over Britain's departure.
In a hastily arranged statement from Downing Street, she said she was seeking another short extension to Brexit.
"We need to be clear what such an extension is for to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way," Mrs May said.