There will always be a place for the UK at the European Union, the Irish prime minister has insisted.
Leo Varadkar, who reiterated his concerns about being able to strike a deal by December 31, said the UK would be welcomed back into the EU if it ever wanted to return.
“On Friday, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, we’ll say goodbye to an old friend embarking on an adventure,” he said.
“We hope it works out for them. But if it does not, there will always be a seat kept for them at the table.”
Ahead of a meeting EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Dublin, the Taoiseach told the BBC the EU would enter talks in a stronger position than the UK.
“The European Union is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people,” he said.
“The UK, it’s about 60 (million). So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team?”
But Varadkar also later told reporters that the Brexit talks does not have to be a competition with winners and losers.
He said both sides could work together to strike a mutually beneficial deal.
“Ireland will be friends to the United Kingdom into the future, we want to be friends with our nearest neighbour,” he replied.
“But there should be no doubt that we are on ‘Team EU’, we are part of the 27 and maintain solidarity with all the member states and European institutions that showed solidarity with us over the past two or three years.
“I think if you see this as a contest, the European Union is in a very strong position – we’re 27 countries, we have a population of 450 million people and the single market is the largest economy in the world.
“But I don’t think we have to see it as a contest. There is a possibility for us to work together with the United Kingdom over the next few months and come to a future relationship and a trade agreement that’s mutually beneficial, and that’s the spirit in which we will be entering these talks.”
Boris Johnson has repeatedly ruled out requesting an extension to the transition period, during which the UK abides by EU rules, to facilitate further talks.
Michel Barnier said if no agreement was reached by the end of the year it “cannot be business as usual”.
“We are to face a risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade,” he added.
“We will use this time maintaining our line, protecting our interests, our principles and always willing to build the strong and ambitious partnership.
“The UK is there as a friend and an ally for our common security and economic partners.”