Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Brexit concerns influencing Stormont powersharing impasse - Varadkar

Chuka Umunna GETTYChuka Umunna wrote to peers asking them to back the UK's continued membership of the customs union
Gerardo Duncan | 01 May, 2018, 13:16

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier visited the Irish border on Monday, and said that Brexit talks could yet fail as the two sides grapple with the issue. He said during the visit he saw some checks and controls were still visible on the border waiting to be dismantled.

So far, the only solution on the negotiating table is the backstop, the default position that will effectively keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and parts of the single market.

Barnier recalled his visit to the border region between Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1999 shortly after the "Good Friday Agreement" was signed.

"Visiting Northern Ireland regularly is a priority for the taoiseach.

I just want to be a good neighbour and I received a very warm welcome in Northern Ireland", he said.

"He is using the visit to meet young people at an integrated school, visit the Jethro Centre in Lurgan and meet with business people in Warrenpoint to speak about the impact of Brexit", he said.

"This is wrong", he told hundreds of audience at a local university in Dundalk, which also included Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

This summer's meeting of European leaders in Brussels would be a "stepping stone" for the final summit in October, which is the deadline for reaching an agreement on withdrawal, he added.

Mr Barnier said he was not ready to engage in "polemics" with Mrs Foster.

"We are seeking practical, practical and operational, solutions to a complex problem".

"The backstop is not there to challenge the UK's redlines".

He inadvertently had a dig at Davis when he took a question from a Northern Irish journalist about Davis believing the backstop wasn't necessary.

The Tánaiste pointed to the impossible scenario where the United Kingdom believes it can stay outside the customs union and single market and expect the EU and Ireland to evade long-established rules of the single market - most of which Britain was instrumental in creating - in order to satisfy misguided Brexiteers' fantasies.

"This is an extraordinary negotiation, very complex, extraordinarily complex and we want to succeed with the United Kingdom, not against the United Kingdom", he added.

While Barnier wants no drama, no visit to the Border area by anyone so connected with Brexit could avoid it.

The Irish Government's position is resigned to focusing on getting the British government to come up with a satisfactory interpretation of the backstop - or Option C. "We have red lines, so does the European Union, but nobody seems to focus on that", said Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney.

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