The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator said he hoped cross-party crisis talks in London would yield a positive outcome to allow his team to move swiftly in agreeing more ambitions terms on a future British-EU relationship.
Britain's exit from the EU hangs in the balance with Prime Minister Theresa May trying to coax the Labour Party into agreeing a divorce deal with a better chance of being ratified by the British parliament, two days before an emergency summit where she will try to delay the April 12 departure.
"We all hope that these talks will produce a positive outcome. I've said many times before, we can be more, much more ambitious in our future relationship with the UK," Michel Barnier told a news conference with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin.
"The political declaration provides for a range of outcomes including a customs union. We are ready to make this clearer if it helps and this work can be done extremely quickly."
Barnier, a regular visitor to Dublin during two tortuous years of Brexit negotiations, also discussed the consequences for Ireland and in particular its 500-km (350-mile), seamless land border with British-governed Northern Ireland in the event of Britain departing the EU without a transition deal.
He said Dublin and Brussels were intensifying discussions on how they could protect peace on the island of Ireland, anchored in part by the open frontier - while also maintaining the integrity of the EU's single market that allows goods to move freely around the bloc - if Britain left without a deal.
"It is not an easy task but I am confident, I am confident that we will find operational solutions. One thing is certain, whatever happens, the EU will stand fully behind Ireland, you have our full support," Barnier said.
His comments echoed expressions of solidarity made to Varadkar last week in his meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, both of whom May will travel to meet on Tuesday.
While May has asked for a further Brexit delay until June 30, EU summit chair Donald Tusk plans to propose an extension of a year that can be shortened if Britain's parliament eventually approves the divorce deal struck with the EU last November.
Varadkar, whose country has most to lose among the remaining 27 EU members from a disruptive Brexit due to the free movement of goods over the border and its close commercial ties with its nearest neighbor, also favors a long extension.
"I will be speaking to some (fellow EU leaders) on the phone today and tomorrow. There will of course be different views but I am confident that we will reach an agreement," he said. (Reuters)