Belfast Telegraph

DUP rejects Barnier bid to solve Ireland border obstacle to Brexit progress

The EU chief negotiator says the proposal will fully respect the territorial integrity of the UK.

The DUP has poured cold water on the EU's latest proposals to 'de-dramatise' the border in Ireland during Brexit negotiations

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier had said the EU was ready to come forward with an “improved” proposal  in an attempt break the deadlock in the Brexit talks.

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After briefing EU foreign ministers in Brussels, he insisted the EU offer would fully respect the “territorial integrity” of the UK.

He said the next full summit of EU leaders on October 18, would be the “moment of truth” when it would become clear whether it was possible for the two sides to reach a deal.

“It is then we shall see whether agreement we are hoping for is in our grasp,” he told a news conference

But DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds MP has said the plan is a non-starter.

“So Michel Barnier says he can do different kinds of checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as if that makes it more palatable,"said Mr Dodds.

"The fundamental point is that internal UK checks are only needed if it is intended to separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

"Despite the talk of “improvements” the backstop being insisted upon by the EU would mean a different regime for Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the U.K," he said.

"It still means a border down the Irish Sea although with different kinds of checks. The fact is that both Theresa May and the Labour Party have said no British Prime Minister could accept such a concept. It is not just unionists who object.

"And anyone with the desire to see our economy prosper will not want to see barriers put in the way of sales to and from our biggest market in the rest of the UK.

"There is however one upside in all of this. Having dismissed technology as magical thinking for the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland it is suddenly okay for the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Progress of sorts!”

The issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has emerged as the main obstacle to an agreement ahead of the UK’s withdrawal in March 2019.

The EU is insisting on a “backstop” proposal which would see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union in the event of the two sides failing to reach an agreement in order to avoid the return of a “hard border”.

However Mrs May has rejected the plan as unacceptable arguing that it would effectively create a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Barnier said he was working on a plan to “de-dramatise” the controls that would be necessary in the event of the backstop coming into play.

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The border between Londonderry and Donegal at Bridgend (Deborah McAleese/PA)

“We are ready to improve this proposal. Work on the EU side is ongoing.

“We are clarifying which goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would need to be checked and where, when and by whom these checks could be performed,” he said.

“We can also clarify that most checks can take place away from the border at the company premises or in the markets. We need to de-dramatise the checks that are needed.”

He reminded the British, however, that the checks were the result of their decision to leave not only the EU but also the single market and the customs union.

“What we need in the withdrawal agreement is a legally operational backstop which fulls respects the territorial integrity of the UK.

“It is a backstop that will only apply unless a better solution is found,” he said.

His comments came as EU leaders prepare to gather in Salzburg on Wednesday for an informal summit – the first time they have met together since Mrs May published her Chequers blueprint for Brexit in July.

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