June 20, 2018

EU’s Barnier will ‘work to avoid’ Brexit hard border

71The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said he will work to avoid a hard Irish border after the UK leaves the European Union.
He was speaking at a joint session of the Irish houses of parliament in Dublin.
He is the first non-head of state or prime minister to make such an address.
Mr Barnier told Irish parliamentarians he had a duty to speak the truth and that the “UK’s departure from the EU would have consequences”.
He also emphasised that customs controls were part of EU border management.
When the UK leaves the EU, it means the Irish border will become a customs frontier.
‘Creative approach’
The British and Irish governments have both said they do not want a return to customs posts on the border.
The EU’s negotiating guidelines call for a “flexible and creative” approach to the customs issue.
However, no solid plans have yet been advanced by either the EU or the UK.
Mr Barnier said that whatever happened in negotiations, “nothing should put peace at risk”.
He added that he wanted to “reassure the Irish people” that in the Brexit negotiations the Republic of Ireland’s interest will be the EU’s interest.
Mr Barnier said the EU wants the negotiations with the UK to succeed.
“We will need to negotiate a ‘bold and ambitious’, but fair, free-trade agreement,” he said.
Addressing Mr Barnier in the joint committee, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams told him he wanted to see a border poll within the next five years.
The EU negotiating guidelines state that issues relating to the Irish border will have be resolved in the first phase of its talks with the UK.
The guidelines call for “flexible and imaginative solutions” to avoid a hard border.
But they caution that any solution needs to “respect the integrity of the EU legal order”.
That is understood to refer to how customs controls will be enforced between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Barnier said the Irish border issue would be “one of his three priorities in negotiations”.
Vulnerable economy
The UK and Irish governments have repeatedly said they do not want a return to customs posts at the border.
The taoiseach (Irish prime minister) has described Brexit as being bad bad for the UK, for Europe and the Republic of Ireland.
Enda Kenny said it challenges Ireland’s peace and prosperity, although he said the country would maintain its close relationship with the UK.
The Republic of Ireland’s economy is particularly vulnerable to any new tariff or regulatory barriers with the UK, which may arise as a result of Brexit.
The chief economist of the Irish Central Bank has warned that within 10 years of a “hard Brexit”, the number of people employed would be 40,000 fewer, compared with a no-Brexit scenario.
Gabriel Fagan said that some small and medium-sized Irish businesses are “likely to be among the hardest hit by Brexit”.
Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the speaker of the Dáil (Irish parliament), said Mr Barnier’s address was “timely and appropriate” given that Brexit “could have a greater impact on Ireland than any on other EU state”.
“As legislators there is an onus on us to be fully informed on the implications of Brexit on this country in particular and on the EU in general and to communicate our particular concerns on Brexit,” he added.
Mr Barnier is expected to visit a food production business close to the Irish border on Friday.

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