Belfast Telegraph

EU's Juncker tells of need to 'protect' the Belfast Agreement at Brexit talks

By Stephen Rae

Jean Claude Juncker has spoken of his desire to protect the Good Friday Agreement in negotiations over the future of the Irish border after the UK leaves the European Union.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, the president of the European Commission described the border as a “demanding issue”.

“I don’t want to put in danger the Good Friday Agreement — which was a major achievement of European, and British and Irish policy-making during the second half of the 1990s,” he said.

“And we have to know that this is an issue we should not deal with in a superficial way because it’s a demanding issue.”

Asked if the British Government would ever get its act together on the Brexit negotiations, he replied: “I’m not in charge of Britain or London. I never was, by the way.”

He praised the work of Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner in charge of Brexit, in relation to negotiations on the Irish border. “I wouldn’t like us to re-experience what the Republic and the North had to go through in recent decades,” he said.

“I have full confidence in the elegant way Michel Barnier is dealing with that question and he is considering this question as being of high importance.”

Mr Juncker also revealed that there would be no interference with Irish tax rates without the consent of the Irish Government.

In comments that will be seen as crucially important to Brexit negotiations, he claimed the Good Friday Agreement was an EU victory that must be protected.

That sense of EU ownership over the peace process will delight Irish diplomats and signals a potentially more co-operative approach to the vexed question of the border in Brexit talks.

Earlier this week Mr Juncker had stoked fears for Ireland’s economic wellbeing when he called for a radical shake-up of EU rules that would strip individual countries of the right to block changes to tax law.

The head of Ireland’s Fiscal Advisory Council, Seamus Coffey, said the move to introduce a common consolidated corporate tax base would be “more serious” than Brexit for Ireland.

However, in his only interview with Irish media, Mr Juncker appeared to modify his stance — admitting he’s already come under attack in his home country of Luxembourg over the controversial proposals.

“When it comes to taxation, because that was your question, I was proposing if the European Council did so, by unanimous decision, to change the voting rules in the European Union when it comes to taxation,” he said.

“But if you have unanimity or qualified majority voting, this is not... this does not mean that these things could be done without debate.”

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