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Leo Varadkar hints at 'preferable' extension to March deadline for Brexit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hinted at a potential extension to the March deadline for Britain to quit the EU, saying the move would be "preferable" than being faced with a no deal hard Brexit stand-off in less than a year's time.

Mr Varadkar made the comments despite saying he is still focussed on the October withdrawal deal and March Brexit deadline dates as the "pressure" of a deadline may force a solution to be found.

Speaking in Bucharest, Romania, on the second day of a four day, three country tour of continental Europe in a bid to shore up support for Ireland's issues on Brexit, Mr Varadkar said ultimately the only government that can seek an extension to the March 2019 deadline is Britain.

However, asked specifically if he would choose to find more time instead of facing the "real risk" of a no deal hard Brexit, Mr Varadkar confirmed an extension would be "preferable".

"In terms of us being unable to come to a withdrawal agreement, I'm always reluctant in talking about hypotheticals, but I think anyone would appreciate it would be preferable to have an extension than to have a no deal scenario.

"There is provision in the treaties to allow article 50 to be extended, but that can only happen if it's requested by the UK and I don't think we can really entertain or talk about that as Europeans unless the UK decides that's what they want, and as things stand they don't.

"And also the pressure of a deadline can be useful too, because there is the pressure of a deadline.

"The UK is leaving the EU next March and in order to get the withdrawal agreement ratified by the European Parliament and Westminster we really need to have that agreed in October, and we should work to that deadline I believe," Mr Varadkar said.

While the comment was qualified by the fact Mr Varadkar said he is still focussed on the October and March deadlines, it is likely to lead to questions over a potential extension as it is the first time the Taoiseach has said he is open to the possible extra time scenario.

Speaking at the same press conference, which came amid heightened tensions a deal will not be struck, Mr Varadkar admitted that while the "risk" of a no deal hard Brexit is "small", it is "very real" and something Ireland must prepare for in a worst case situation.