Monday 20 November 2017

Border must not be treated as 'test case', EU warns UK

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, pictured with British Brexit Secretary David Davis recently in Brussels. Photo: AP
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, pictured with British Brexit Secretary David Davis recently in Brussels. Photo: AP

Colm Kelpie and Cormac McQuinn

Britain has been warned that it must not treat the Irish Border as an experimental "test case" as it grapples with its relationship with Europe post-Brexit.

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator admitted he was concerned by Britain's plans for the Border arrangement and urged more "creative proposals".

The comments from Michel Barnier highlighted the gulf with the UK on the sensitive issue of the 500km Border, which is crossed by 30,000 people each day.

He pulled no punches at a Brussels press conference yesterday as he accused the UK of wanting the European Union to suspend the application of its laws, the customs union and single market, thereby creating a new external EU border.

"The UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen," he said.

"Creativity and flexibility cannot be at the expense of the integrity of the single market and the customs union. This will not be fair for Ireland, and it would not be fair for the European Union."

The EU is also concerned that Britain could use the Border between the North and Republic as a way to circumvent tariffs that could be imposed in a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal.

Presenting a united front, Mr Barnier said the EU was working "hand-in-hand" with the Irish Government and that all remaining EU states supported Ireland.

"We are seeing in these negotiations that Ireland's interest is the [EU] 27's interest, and vice-versa," Mr Barnier said.

He also said that the UK's position paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland, released last month, "worries" him.

A Government statement said the EU paper "clearly reflects the continuing close engagement between Ireland and the EU Task Force".

"The principles reflected in this paper must underpin any arrangements and solutions to be proposed, developed and agreed in future negotiations," the statement said.

The four-page paper stated that the onus on coming up with solutions remains with the UK. Mr Barnier warned the British they needed to do more.

"It [UK] has created this situation by leaving the single market and the customs union. It has to be part of the solution as well, the solution can't come entirely from the European Union," he said.

The Irish Government has been more forthright about its concerns in recent weeks because both it and Brussels are trying to impress on London the need to come up with solutions that will avoid a hard Border.

Last night, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said any reintroduction of the Border, however much people think it could be managed or mitigated, would represent a reversal of the direction of the peace process.

"That is why the Task Force Paper seeks, unequivocally, to impress on the United Kingdom that it must propose a way forward which doesn't reintroduce the Border, which doesn't turn the direction of travel of the peace process backwards, and which doesn't inhibit the vital flow of trade here.

"It is why the Government has been more forthright in recent weeks about its concerns. Time is running out. Anxieties are rising in business, but also across society more generally.

"So we, respectfully, with our EU partners, are asking the UK government to think again.

"There are options available, particularly around the single market and customs union, which can resolve this major problem, if the UK government is minded to propose them."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the EU was backing Ireland's national interests in the Brexit talks.

He welcomed the European Commission's paper on Ireland, in which he said his Government had a "big hand".

"We're very happy with the paper produced by the European Commission," he said. "That paper very much shows that the other 27 member states, are very much behind us when it comes to our national interests."

Irish Independent

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