Belfast Telegraph

Ireland's vice-president of EU Parliament says no-deal Brexit would result in 'backstop 2'

Concerns: Mairead McGuinness
Concerns: Mairead McGuinness
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Irish vice-president of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness has said she believes a 'backstop 2' situation would emerge for Northern Ireland even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The Fine Gael MEP, who represents the Republic's border counties in Europe, said the EU's chief negotiatior Michel Barnier is committed to ensuring no border infrastructure in a no-deal scenario. But she said Mr Barnier is facing "a clash of objectives" over the issue, with strong concern around Europe that Northern Ireland could become a back door to the EU single market.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms McGuinness, who had a career as an agriculture journalist before turning to politics in 2004, said the UK's no-deal proposals for tariffs on goods reflected the "horror" it could inflict on agri-businesses on both sides of the border.

The scenario would permit goods travelling north to cross the border tariff-free, but it's anticipated that Northern Ireland firms would face tariffs in the other direction.

"The first thing I thought when I saw the proposals on the tariffs from the British Government, was that they are treating Northern Ireland differently and this is something that the DUP and others said they would never allow happen," said the MEP.

"In a sense it was rather strange. I'm not sure how workable it is, but it does point to the horror that a no-deal Brexit would unveil for the UK.

"For agriculture the consequences are really serious," she added.

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On Tuesday, Mr Barnier told MEPs in Strasbourg that the Good Friday Agreement would continue to apply in all Brexit scenarios.

He added that as co-guarantor, the UK would be expected to uphold it "in spirit and in letter".

Senior EU officials have been reticent about openly discussing its potential approach to the border in a no-deal situation.

It's unclear whether its commitment to an open border and the Good Friday Agreement or the protection of the Single Market would take precedence.

"In my view, there would be backstop 2," said Ms McGuinness. "The same backstop but called something else would have to reappear following negotiations between Europe, the UK and Ireland.

"Michel Barnier will be very aware of the consequences of this going horribly wrong. But he does have to protect the Single Market, so we have almost a clash of objectives. They need to keep open borders with a crash out and need to protect the Single Market.

"People aren't spelling it out exactly, because we don't want to go there, we don't want to even point in that direction. And I think with the way the House of Commons voted, we're not going to go there," she said.

"However, what it would come down to is a need for very deep discussion between the UK and Europe, including Ireland, as to how we avoid infrastructure or checks that would change the sitution we have today.

"I think the responsibility would be with the United Kingdom, because it is their leaving that is causing the problem.

"But there is a strong concern about the single market, that Northern Ireland can't become a route to access the EU market by the back door. I think there would be concerns about that."

Belfast Telegraph