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Hard border could trigger a return to violence in Northern Ireland, fears Barnier

Warning: Michel Barnier
Warning: Michel Barnier

By Harriet Line

The man tipped to replace the outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested a hard border on the island of Ireland could lead to a renewal of conflict.

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Michel Barnier also claimed that nostalgia for a time when Britain was a "powerful" and "global" nation was partly to blame for the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator said nostalgia served "no purpose in politics" as he warned Tory leadership hopefuls that Brussels would not renegotiate Theresa May's withdrawal agreement.

Asked if a hard border on the island of Ireland would lead to renewal of the Troubles, Mr Barnier replied: "Yes, it creates a very difficult situation for people.

"I remember a meeting after the Brexit vote with a group of 20 women working on both sides.

"Several of the women were crying, worried about their livelihoods. They said, 'Help us'.

"We have found an agreement. We said that after the withdrawal agreement is accepted, we can immediately start work on a long-term solution for the Irish border.

"It was a British proposal to build the backstop into a UK-wide solution to make the whole of the UK (including Northern Ireland) part of a single customs territory until we find a solution.

"The backstop is insurance in case we do not find this solution."

In comments that are likely to enrage Conservative Brexiteers, Mr Barnier also told the New York Review Of Books: "Looking at the causes of Brexit, we also find typically British reasons: the hope for a return to a powerful, global Britain, nostalgia for the past... nostalgia serves no purpose in politics.

"In my country too, some politicians still prefer to live in the past.

"But there were also people voting for Brexit who simply don't want to accept rules."

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