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Barnier says UK's Irish border Brexit plans 'worrying and unfair'

EU commits to honouring financial commitments to Northern Ireland

By Jonathan Bell and PA

Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the UK's plans for the Irish border are worrying and unfair on Ireland.

The EU Article 50 talks chief was talking after the publication of the guideline position of the 27 countries on dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Addressing the Press Mr Barnier said it was important to preserve peace on the island and uphold the principles in the Good Friday Agreement.

But he emphasised that political decisions needed to be made ahead of any technical decisions on how to cross what will be the UK's only land border with the EU post-Brexit.

What I see in the UK paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me. Michel Barnier


"We need to avoid a return to a hard border, while respecting Ireland's place in the single market. North south cooperation will need to be preserved in all policy areas," he said.

"Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland must continue to enjoy rights as citizens of EU. It is the birth right of all born on the island of Ireland to be Irish, British or both."

Barnier committed the EU to honouring its financial commitments to peace-building projects in Northern Ireland but that he expected the UK to honour its financial commitments in any settlement.

"But we are not there yet," he said.

The talks negotiator said the solution to the border issues would need to be "unique" requiring both sides to be flexible and creative.

Creativity and flexibility can't be at the expense of the integrity of the single market and customs union. Michel Barnier


Mr Barnier said he was concerned over the UK Government's position on Ireland, which appeared to envisage the EU suspending the application of its laws, single market and customs union at a new external border.

"What I see in the UK paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me," he told a Brussels press conference.

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

"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."

Mr Barnier said his side were ready to "accelerate" divorce talks with the UK. It comes as MPs debate a bill which will seek to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and incorporate European Law into UK law.

Meanwhile new documents have revealed European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker has voiced concern about the "stability and accountability" of David Davis and his political mandate to conduct Brexit talks

In talks with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Juncker said the Brexit Secretary's "apparent lack of involvement" in talks "risked jeopardising the success of the negotiations", according to official minutes released in Brussels.

An official Commission spokeswoman declined to comment on the minutes, saying the situation had "moved on" since July 12, when Mr Barnier briefed Mr Juncker and other commissioners.

Mr Juncker's comments emerged as Mr Barnier released a raft of new papers setting out the EU's negotiating position on sensitive issues including the future of the Irish border, customs arrangements, intellectual property rights, public procurement and data protection.

And they came as MPs prepared for a bruising House of Commons showdown over the Government's key Brexit legislation, with Labour threatening to vote down the Bill repealing Britain's EU membership and other parties tabling amendments to block it.

The minutes of the July 12 meeting at the Commission's Berlaymont HQ recorded that Mr Juncker "expressed his concern about the question of the stability and accountability of the UK negotiator and his apparent lack of involvement, which risked jeopardising the success of the negotiations".

In an apparent reference to the Conservative Government's loss of its overall majority in the June general election, the minutes added that Mr Juncker urged Mr Barnier "not to accept discussions at the purely technical level with negotiators who had no political mandate, while fundamental political questions still remained".

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