Belfast Telegraph

EU backing special status for NI after Brexit to avoid hard border

By Fionnan Sheahan

The EU is now pushing hard for Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and customs union, separate to Britain, after Brexit.

The move would mean border checks not having to be put in place.

Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that the UK's decision to leave the single market and customs union will mean checks at the border are "unavoidable".

After stating that any solution on the issue be "precise, clear and unambiguous", Mr Barnier is proposing that Northern Ireland would stay in the single market and customs union.

He wants the December agreement on no return of the border written into law, which would force the UK Government to concede.

The move to treat Northern Ireland differently would be resisted by the DUP.

However, the UK Government would have to push it through.

The outcome would be of benefit to the Republic, and the remainder of the EU countries support what Mr Barnier is proposing.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday called for clarity from the UK in terms of its approach to Brexit. He added that he understands Mr Barnier's frustrations with the British.

"The difficulty is, what we are trying to do with the EU, is to ensure what was agreed in December is stitched into the legal text of a withdrawal agreement, and the transition period which the UK is keen to have is conditional on that," Mr Varadkar told RTE's The Week In Politics programme.

"I understand Mr Barnier's frustrations with the lack of progress since December.

"We need clarity from the UK... the last resort still applies."

Mr Varadkar also denied that the Brexit deal struck late last year had been oversold.

Meanwhile, it has been warned that any border infrastructure on the island of Ireland would be a "clear and present danger" to the peace process. Irish senator Neal Richmond said repeated warnings against any type of border were not "alarmism".

The Fine Gael EU affairs spokesman warned: "Any border and customs infrastructure is a viable threat to the peace process which is only 20 years old on this island.

"The Irish Government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement... as are the British Government, so we do have a responsibility to make sure that case is known."

Speaking on ITV's Peston On Sunday programme, Mr Richmond said: "It is not alarmism."

He said: "We get tired of people saying we are fear- mongering."

Mr Richmond added:"This is a clear and present danger to our peace process which needs to be tackled."

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