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Barnier 'crystal clear' he will not sign any agreement that does not tackle border issue

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator reiterated his side's commitment to the so-called 'backstop option'

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said he is "crystal clear" he will not sign any agreement with the United Kingdom which does not tackle the issue of the border on the island of Ireland.

Writing in the Irish Sunday Independent ahead of a visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland next week, Mr Barnier wrote the EU remains "fully committed to having a safety net in our agreement - the so-called 'backstop' option - in case the overall future relationship between the EU and UK does not in itself solve the border issue".

This option would prevent any future return of a border on the island of Ireland, Mr Barnier writes, and would ensure the future of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the future of north-south cooperation.

"In case there is any doubt whatsoever about our commit­ment to this, let me be crystal clear: we will not conclude the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK unless we have such a solution included in the text of the agreement. We will not sign any agreement with the UK unless we — together with the Irish Government — are satisfied with the solution found for Ireland."

Mr Barnier's visit to Northern Ireland was first made public last week by Sinn Fein's Foyle MP Elisha McCallion, whose constituency he will visit.

As well as Londonderry, he will also visit Newry and Dungannon, and make stops south of the border.

On Monday he will be in Dundalk, where he will speak at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit event.

The fact the visit was first announced by a Sinn Fein MP drew the ire of Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson and DUP MEP Diane Dodds.

In a joint statement, the pair said: "The challenge for Mr Barnier now will be to demonstrate that he will hear views from right across Northern Ireland. Whilst visits to Londonderry, Newry and Dungannon will be useful, there are companies and representatives from right across Northern Ireland with views that should be heard in this process."

Speaking on Thursday before the House of Commons Brexit committee, David Davis said a deadline for progress on the issue of the Irish border by June - laid down by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney - was "artificial".

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