Belfast Telegraph

Onus is on UK to provide unique solution to Irish border issue, warns Barnier

By Suzanne Breen

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has expressed serious concern about the Government's proposals for Northern Ireland's border arrangements after Brexit.

Speaking as the EU yesterday published a four-page document on the issue, Mr Barnier said: "What I see in the UK's paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me.

"Creativity and flexibility can't be at the expense of the integrity of the single market and customs union. This would be not fair for Ireland and it would not be fair for the European Union."

Unionist politicians have criticised the EU's stance which has been welcomed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

Mr Barnier warned against London using Ireland as a "kind of test case" for its custom relations with the rest of the EU.

He said: "The UK wants the EU to suspend the application of its laws, its customs union and its single market at what will be a new external border for the EU.

"And the UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen."

The paper stated that a "unique solution" is required to the border issue but it was up to London, not the EU, to provide it. Mr Barnier said the onus was on the UK to come up with ideas to avoid a hard border, including checkpoints.

Democratic Unionist MEP Diane Dodd described the EU's insistence that responsibility for ensuring an open and seamless border lay with the UK as "unhelpful".

"It is wrong that border issues and the genuine concerns held by those living and working in affected communities can be exploited in this way," she said.

"If Brussels is really serious maintaining a seamless border it should be careful not to wash its hands of decisions that must be taken or indeed from the close engagement and cooperation that will be required with the UK."

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson accused Mr Barnier and his colleagues of "sitting on their hands" on the border issue "which is a pathetic position to take".

"I am confident that a solution which respects the integrity of the UK while avoiding a hard border with the Irish Republic, can be agreed," he said.

"But this will require positive engagement from Brussels, rather than ducking the issues, abdicating responsibility and dismissing any proposal from the UK government."

He suggested that the Republic should urgently seek special status.

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said: "The solution is clear from the EU paper, what is required is for the North to be designated special status within the EU. That is the way forward."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The EU's official position now acknowledges that the island of Ireland needs a special deal which will protect this island's position and our people - we need an Irish solution to the Brexit problem.

"This publication also brings more focus to the insanity of having no local institutions in Northern while the ongoing Brexit process threatens all of our futures."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the EU paper was "a welcome recognition a one size fits all Brexit for the UK as a whole simply will not work for this region".

He added: "Alliance believes we should be ambitious and if the UK as a whole is not seeking to remain within the European Single Market, then Northern Ireland should seek to do so."

TUV leader Jim Allister said the EU's stance on the border was "infected by the nationalist aspirations of the Republic of Ireland and motivated by its anti-British agenda".

"By trying to set this part of the UK as a place apart within its nation of choice the EU is disrespecting our constitutional affinity and the reality that a UK which joined the EU as one nation must leave as one nation," he added.

A British government spokesman said: "We welcome the Commission's position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland, which continues to demonstrate that the UK and EU's objectives on this issue are closely aligned."

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