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Brussels won't support May's plans for soft border in Northern Ireland, says Coveney

By Suzanne Breen

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has warned that the EU could reject Theresa May's plan for a soft border in Northern Ireland.

Mr Coveney suggested it could be difficult to accept because it would undermine the single market.

The Prime Minister is committed to leaving the customs union but insists a hard border can be avoided through technological solutions and placing no new restrictions on the 80% of cross-frontier trade carried out by smaller businesses.

But Mr Coveney told BBC's The Andrew Marr Show he was "not sure that the EU will be able to support" the plan, as it would be worried about protecting the integrity of the single market.

"While of course we will explore and look at all of the proposed British solutions, they are essentially a starting point in negotiations as opposed to an end point," he commented.

Mr Coveney said if agreement couldn't be reached, the backstop plan of full British alignment with customs union and single market rules that Mrs May "committed clearly" to in December would have to be put in place.

He said that in a keynote Brexit speech last Friday, Mrs May hadn't detailed "how she's going to solve the problem of maintaining a largely invisible border on the island of Ireland".

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds claimed Dublin's approach "defies logic".

He said: "It is in the Republic of Ireland's economic interests to have a sensible agreement between the UK and the EU. A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the Republic. Despite this fact, Simon Coveney has thrown his weight behind Brussels.

"The Irish government has closed down the space to even consider innovative solutions. A good deal for the UK will mean a good deal for the Republic."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald will today meet EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Meanwhile, former prime minister John Major said customs checks along the border would be unavoidable post-Brexit.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he stated: "After 20 years of progress in Ireland, there is a risk that we will go backwards. The lack of any border had both a practical and symbolic role in establishing peace and, if one reappears - even in benign form - it will have ramifications."

The peace was "still fragile, and even the smallest risk must not be taken", he added.

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