DUP claims Brussels spreading fear and confusion over Brexit hard border claim
DUP demands clarity on EU position after spokesman's 'no-deal' assertion
The DUP has accused Brussels of using Northern Ireland as a "political football" after an European Union spokesman said a no-deal Brexit would lead to a hard border.
Party MEP Diane Dodds accused the EU of adopting conflicting positions and called for clarity on the issue. The Irish Government admitted it would be "very difficult" to avoid border infrastructure under a no-deal Brexit.
The controversy about a hard border followed comments by the European Commission's chief spokesman yesterday.
Margaritis Schinas was asked by reporters whether the EU commitment to the peace process would last "whether or not there is a deal".
He said: "If you like to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it's pretty obvious, you will have a hard border.
"Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and everything that we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact.
"So, of course, we are for peace, of course we stand behind the Good Friday Agreement, but that's what a no-deal scenario would entail."
Mrs Dodds said: "Northern Ireland is fed up being used like a political football by the Commission.
"One spokesman says there will not be a hard border and another says there will.
"We need a proper explanation of the position and an outline of what this border would look like and how it would operate."
She called on Brussels' constitutional affairs committee to invite the "Secretary General of the European Commission to answer our questions and explain the commission's position on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland".
DUP MP Gregory Cambpell accused the EU of scaremongering.
"The EU must spell out what exactly this hard border would look like," he said.
"Residents and business people are being bombarded daily with a diet of fear and recklessly inaccurate scare stories."
Mr Campbell challenged the EU to explain what the hard border would consist of. "How would it be constructed? Where would the employees be drawn from?" he asked.
"What steps would be implemented, and by whom, to prevent the ease with which people and companies could avoid using the crossings where this 'hard border' was constructed?"
Irish Foreign Minister and Tanaiste Simon Coveney said Dublin's concentration was on the withdrawal agreement and the backstop.
"In the absence of the backstop and a withdrawal agreement we have a very difficult job to do to prevent border infrastructure, but of course that would have to be our focus," he said.
Mr Coveney said the backstop was not a political tool but "a legal and regulatory mechanism to protect the important status quo on this island".
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "We'd have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that meant full alignment, so there will be no hard border.
"We already have that agreement, that is the backstop. Nobody who is opposed to the backstop can credibly say that they are also against a hard border.
"Unless they can come up with something else. Nobody else has done that yet."
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said it was "very concerning" that Theresa May had not removed the option of a no-deal from the table. "As each day and as each week passes, we come perilously closer to the prospect or at least the possibility of a crash Brexit," she stated.
The TUV said Brussels had admitted it would be the "main contractor" of a hard border. Mr Allister said: "This is an indication that, for all its grovelling, the economic interests of Dublin are trumped by EU dogma, which requires its frontier states to provide and maintain the EU's borders.
"So, far from it being the British it would be the EU, with the Republic of Ireland as its sub-contractor, who would build any border.
"The Republic should waken up to the fact that by overdoing its aggressive demands in the Brexit negotiations it has produced this situation and should even now back off the backstop before it is too late and it becomes the partitioning government of Ireland."
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry insisted that the backstop was a workable solution to the possibility of a hard border. Any new border on the island of Ireland should be "unthinkable".
"The current problems and uncertainty arise from the decision of the UK to leave the EU and the UK Government bears a particular responsibility to find a workable solution. The current backstop proposal achieves this and should be supported by all," he added.