EU's chief Brexit negotiator shares Irish border concern
Posted May 11
LONDON — The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator reassured Ireland on Thursday that the bloc will fight to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Northern Ireland after the U.K. leaves the EU.
But Michel Barnier suggested that keeping the border free of controls could be complicated, noting that "customs controls are part of EU border management. They protect the single market. They protect our food safety and our standards."
Ireland is the only EU country that shares a land border with the U.K., which plans to leave the EU single market and customs union once it quits the bloc. Ireland could face economic turmoil if Brexit brings tariffs and other trade barriers between the U.K. and the bloc.
Speaking to both houses of the Irish parliament in Dublin, Barnier said, "Brexit will come at a cost — also to us, the 27" remaining member states.
The status of the border must be one of the first issues to be addressed in Brexit talks, he said, telling lawmakers, "I will work with you to avoid a hard border."
Barnier acknowledged that Ireland is in a unique position and said "Ireland's interest will be the Union's interest."
He said nothing in the exit negotiations should put Northern Ireland's peace settlement at risk.
Barnier is due to visit the border area during his two-day visit to Ireland.
Britain and the EU are due to start exit negotiations after the U.K's June 8 election. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused some EU officials of trying to influence the election, after details of her reportedly fractious meeting with a top EU official was leaked.
Barnier said the negotiations should be conducted "with mutual respect."
"There is no reason a strong Europe cannot maintain a strong relationship with the U.K.," he said.