Monday 19 March 2018

EU 'will never allow Ireland to suffer from UK's decision to leave'

Border is illogical divide that must remain invisible - Brexit co-ordinator

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt speaking in the Dáil yesterday. Photo: Maxwells
European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt speaking in the Dáil yesterday. Photo: Maxwells
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is an "illogical divide" that cannot be policed and should remain invisible, the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator has said.

The Border had created hate and violence in the past, said Guy Verhofstadt, the federalist former Belgian prime minister, during a special meeting in the Dáil chamber. He said arguments for the use of technology to minimise the effects of a Border were "not convincing".

Avoiding a hard Border on the island was a "red line" issue for the European Parliament in the Brexit talks, he added.

"It's [the Border] not a river, it's not a mountain bridge. It meanders for 310 miles (499km) through meadows, forests, farmland, it cannot be securely policed and is therefore in fact an illogical divide, one that at least should remain invisible, just as it is today," Mr Verhofstadt said.

He was addressing a joint meeting of the committees for EU Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, though European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee was also present, as was Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

Mr Verhofstadt does not attend the Brexit negotiations but the European Parliament must sign off on the final Brexit deal, and he is the link between the parliament and the European Commission's negotiating team.

Ahead of a much-anticipated Brexit speech by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence today, Mr Verhofstadt said the EU would not allow Ireland to suffer from the UK's EU departure, nor would Ireland, or any other member state, be used as a bargaining chip.

He said he was in Ireland to bring a message of solidarity.

"Solidarity with Ireland and Irish citizens. What has been clear from the beginning is that we will never allow that Ireland will suffer by the British decision to leave the European Union," Mr Verhofstadt said.

"That's a commitment that we have taken with the European Parliament, and it's a commitment also that has been taken by the European Union as a whole."

He said he had visited the Border region on Wednesday in Co Monaghan, and said he stood with one foot in the North and one in the Republic.

"It was completely impossible to see where one jurisdiction ended and the other started," he said.

He said reintroducing a physical border would be absurd.

The Belgian MEP said the Border had created "chaos, created hate, created violence".

"So to reduce this to a line on a map was a crucial achievement 20 years ago, and an achievement in which the European Union, UK and Ireland played a decisive role," he said.

Mr Verhofstadt said most of the people he had met from both sides of the Border state that the solution should be for Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and customs union.

"The red line for the European Parliament will be a hard Border," he said.

"We have to give the green light at the end. It cannot also be a red line."

He also took a swipe at UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, saying his recent criticism of young voters who feel allegiance to Europe was "nonsense".

He also said Britain cannot pick and choose what it wants from the European Union.

"You cannot create a system in which to be not a member of the European Union is more favourable than to be a member of the European Union," he said.

Irish Independent

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