Belfast Telegraph

DUP Brexit meeting with Barnier 'constructive' but calls for 'greater flexibility'

Senior DUP members have concluded a "constructive" meeting with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Party leader Arlene Foster, Sammy Wilson, Nigel Dodds and Diane Dodds were in Brussels for the meeting, after Mr Barnier met with representatives from Sinn Fein on Monday.

Following the meeting party leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Barnier "clearly understands the challenges that Brexit presents to the Good Friday Agreement".

Speaking after the meeting, Mrs Foster said it had been a "constructive meeting" and that there were "sensible solutions to the border question".

Mrs Foster highlighted the EU's draft Withdrawal Agreement published at the end of February as an issue.

"He has put forward an EU draft text which not only do we find it unacceptable, the British Government find it unacceptable, the Labour party find it unacceptable. So there will be a need to negotiate from that. That is his interpretation, we don’t think it is a fair interpretation of the joint report from December," she said.

The draft text includes a 'backstop option' which states if no solutions are found, a common regulatory zone would be established which would leave Northern Ireland within the EU's customs territory.

"And therefore work needs to be done on this now. We are entering into a negotiation around these issues and we wanted him to understand why we felt so strongly about the draft EU legal text as it currently stands," Mrs Foster added.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said it had raised the point that a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would do "severe damage" to the Irish economy.

"The biggest market which the Irish economy has is the UK market and especially the GB market. So a proposal of that nature wasn’t actually doing any favours to the Irish," he said.

Ahead of the meeting on Tuesday morning Mr Barnier tweeted that "the EU is looking for practical solutions to avoiding a hard border, in full respect of the constitutional status of NI, as set out in the GFA".

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