Brexit deal may include special status for the north, leading MEP says
THE north may be given a special status after the UK leaves the EU, the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator has said.
Writing in the Financial Times, MEP Guy Verhofstadt said one of the parliament's priorities is finding a solution which protects the Good Friday Agreement "in all its parts" and to stop the "re-introduction of a divisive hard border on the island of Ireland".
"This may ultimately require a comprehensive political solution, possibly even a special status for Northern Ireland," he said.
"Many Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy rights as EU passport holders, but how will their rights, including the right to vote in European elections, be safeguarded in practice?"
Mr Verhofstadt said despite reports about clashes between British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a Downing Street dinner last week, he believed that a Brexit deal "remains more likely than unlikely".
He said agreement on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and vice versa, should form part of the deal and will need a "mutually agreed enforcement mechanism, as will the divorce agreement more generally".
Mr Verhofstadt said debates around a financial settlement are "likely to be complex and heated".
He said while the EU does not want to "punish" the UK, it should agree "to pay its share of outstanding legal and budgetary commitments and liabilities".
Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson welcomed Mr Verhofstadt's comments.
"Designated special status for the north within the EU is the only credible alternative to the Tory Brexit agenda, which would clearly be disastrous for Ireland," she said.