'Hong Kong' idea floated as answer to border issue
EU diplomats have proposed a post-Brexit situation where Northern Ireland becomes "the new Hong Kong".
Political website Politico reports European negotiators have proposed a "one state, two systems" approach as a solution for dealing with issues around a border on the island of Ireland.
The story quotes unnamed "high-ranking officials in Brussels" who say the handover of Hong Kong could set a precedent for the current negotiations between Europe and the UK.
The proposed solutions would see the draft agreement between the EU and the UK place Northern Ireland in a different customs territory.
It quotes the official as saying: "The one thing you cannot say about Margaret Thatcher is that she was soft on sovereignty... if Thatcher agreed it for Hong Kong, why not Northern Ireland? It would not affect the constitutional integrity of the UK. The head of state would still be the Queen."
A UK official quoted said the proposal is unacceptable as it is based on handing over sovereignty for Hong Kong - something it had not planned to do for Northern Ireland. Contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, head of office with the European Commission in Northern Ireland Colette Fitzgerald said: "The Article 50 negotiations for the UK's withdrawal from the EU are carried out by the chief negotiator Mr Michel Barnier and his Task Force 50 team in Brussels.
"The EU position on Northern Ireland is set out clearly in the draft Withdrawal Act agreed with the UK and is available of the Task Force 50 website."
The Task Force 50 website contains documents outlining how the UK will withdraw from the European Union and includes speeches and statements made by EU officials on the subject.
Speaking at the All-Island Civic Dialogue in Dundalk at the end of last month, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said: "The consequences of Brexit should not and must not lead to the return of a hard border, neither on maps nor in minds."
Pressure has been growing on the UK to put forward viable solutions to the issue of the border on the island of Ireland and post-Brexit customs arrangements.
Yesterday, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee expressed its disappointment after Brexit Secretary David Davis declined to appear before it to discuss the issue.