The Republic of Ireland's minority government appeared set to collapse last week after the party propping it up submitted a motion of no confidence in the deputy prime minister.
Ireland’s Indian-origin Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that if the motion was not withdrawn by tomorrow, he would be forced to hold an election before Christmas, a prospect EU officials say would complicate a key EU summit on December 14-15 on Brexit.
"What that would mean is me throwing a good woman under the bus to save myself and my own government, and that would be the wrong thing to do," Varadkar told national broadcaster RTE, dismissing demands for his deputy Frances Fitzgerald to quit. Varadkar is due to play a major role in the Brexit talks, telling EU leaders whether Ireland believes sufficient progress has been made on the future border between EU-member Ireland and Britain's province of Northern Ireland.
The border is one of three issues Brussels wants broadly resolved before it decides whether to move the talks on to a second phase about trade, as Britain wants.
While Varadkar could go into the summit in a caretaker role, he said that any election would have to happen before Christmas so that he or his successor could attend the next meeting of EU leaders in February with a fresh mandate.
The head of opposition party Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, earlier said an election "can be avoided if the government takes action" by asking Fitzgerald to resign. Varadkar said he would not seek, nor did he expect to be offered, a resignation.
Fianna Fail supports the minority Fine Gael government in a "confidence and supply" arrangement. Voting no confidence in a minister would break that agreement.
Varadkar and Martin met last Friday and spoke again over the weekend ahead of the motion of no-confidence in Fitzgerald, to be debated tomorrow. The trigger is her handling of a legal case involving a police whistleblower.
"At a time when issues and decisions will need to be made that will reverberate in our country for decades to come, the prospect of either an election taking place or a government not being in place afterwards is actually unconscionable," Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told RTE.
As well as the border, the other issues Brussels wants resolved before Brexit talks move on to trade arrangements are Britain's financial settlement on leaving the bloc and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.
Since Varadkar's appointment as Fine Gael leader six months ago, his party has narrowly led Fianna Fail in opinion polls, which suggest both parties would increase their support but struggle to form anything but another minority government.