Michel Barnier warns hard Brexit would make Irish border checks ‘unavoidable’
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic are “unavoidable” if the UK leaves the single market and the customs union.
Michel Barnier said any future agreement between Britain and the EU must “avoid a hard border and protect north-south cooperation and the Good Friday Agreement”.
But he added that specific solutions on how to achieve this had not yet been put forward by the UK.
Cabinet ministers have repeatedly insisted that the UK will leave both the customs union and single market as one.
However, despite a meeting on the subject yesterday, they have failed to resolve how to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
At a press conference today, Mr Barnier said: “It is important to tell the truth. A UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs union would make border checks unavoidable…
“The UK has committed to proposing specific solutions to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and we are waiting for such solutions."
He added that another option would be “to maintain full regulatory alignment with those rules of the single market and the customs union current or future which support north-south cooperation, the whole Ireland economy and the Good Friday Agreement.”
The remarks sparked an angry response from the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jr who insisted that Mr Barnier must negotiate a “sensible free trade deal with the UK”.
The Northern Irish party holds the balance of power in Westminster after agreeing to prop up Theresa’s May minority government, but are adamant they will not accept divergence from the rest of the UK during the Brexit process.
Pro-EU Best for Britain campaigner and former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron earlier accused the Prime Minister of "fudging" the December divorce deal, claiming that it was "already coming back to haunt her."
"The EU has proposed a 'sunset clause' on Northern Ireland’s single market membership, which would render the deal null and void should an unexpectedly generous free trade deal, or a hitherto unimagined technological solution emerge," he said.
"May claimed this was a possibility - the EU knows it isn’t likely.
"It’s another example of the vacuum left by May’s divided and dithering government allowing the EU to set the agenda."