The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will visit Ireland today and tomorrow to discuss growing tension over the future of the Irish border after Brexit.
Statements issued ahead of the visit have indicated that concerns about a hard border in Ireland remain a contentious part in Brexit negotiations. While an agreement on the future of the Irish border has yet to be formally reached, a proposal agreed between the UK and EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario has proved unpopular with Northern Ireland’s ruling party.
The proposal is for Northern Ireland to remain fully aligned with the EU, in the event that no Brexit deal can be reached which would keep the Irish border open; this would include Northern Ireland remaining in the EU’s customs union, to avoid the implementation of a hard border.
However, Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has warned that Barnier does not fully understand the issues at hand, and that such an arrangement would not be possible. She explained to the BBC: “[Barnier’s] proposal of us being in an all-Ireland regulatory scenario with a border down the Irish Sea simply does not work. I don’t think he does understand the wider unionist culture of Northern Ireland.”
She further criticised Barnier’s approach to the negotiation, arguing: “Barnier’s trying to present himself as someone who cares deeply about Northern Ireland and if that is the case he needs to hear the fact that we are part of the United Kingdom [and] will remain part of the United Kingdom constitutionally, politically and economically.”
How has Barnier responded?
In response, Barnier has reemphasised his commitment to preventing a hard border in Ireland, and insisted that it is an important priority for the EU. He has previously told the UK that no Brexit deal will be possible unless both parties agree on wording which secures the future of the Irish border before June.
Barnier told a press conference in Dundalk, Ireland, that he had not approached Brexit negotiations seeking to punish the UK for its decision, and that engaging in polemics with political leaders was not conducive to solving the issue. He further extended an invitation to Foster to discuss her concerns with him.