EU must have customs controls, senior negotiator warns Dáil
THE European Union must have customs controls to protect its borders, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator has warned a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad.
But Michel Barnier said the EU will work with the Republic to avoid a hard border with the north following Brexit.
He told politicians during a visit to Dublin that customs controls are necessary part of the union's border management.
"We have a duty to speak the truth. The UK's departure from the EU will have consequences," he said.
"Customs controls are part of EU border management. They protect the single market. They protect our food safety and our standards."
Businesses and politicians across Ireland have said they do not want to return to the hard border seen during the Troubles.
The British government also wants a "frictionless" arrangement and Brexit Secretary David Davis has said the UK would adopt technology to cover the transport of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Mr Barnier said Ireland's interest is shared by the entire EU.
"European integration helped to remove borders that once existed on maps and in minds. Brexit changes the external borders of the EU," he said.
"I will work with you to avoid a hard border."
Mr Barnier has pledged to make the border one of his three priorities for the first phase of the negotiations.
He is due to visit farmers and workers in a dairy co-operative on the border today.
"Because of its historical and geographical ties with the UK, because of your shared border and strong economic links, Ireland is in a unique position," he told yesterday's joint sitting.
With the depreciation of sterling, Brexit was already having an impact on the value of Irish exports to the UK, in particular the agri-food sector, the senior negotiator said.
"And many in Ireland fear the return of tensions in the north," he said.
"Today, in front of these two houses, I want to reassure the Irish people: in this negotiation Ireland's interest will be the union's interest.
"We are in this negotiation together and a united EU will be here for you."
He added: "In Northern Ireland, lifting the borders took time".
"Only 15 years ago did check-points and controls totally disappear thanks to the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of violence."
He said he understood the EU's role in strengthening dialogue in Northern Ireland and supporting the 1998 Agreement.
Later Mr Barnier met Taoiseach Enda Kenny at his south Dublin offices.
"I am very aware of the concerns on the part of the Irish people and I am ready to find solutions, respecting the market rules but also taking into account the unique situation of Ireland," he said.
He added that he hoped "as soon as possible" to find agreement on key points where Brexit had created "huge and serious" uncertainty.
"I am ready to work and I am ready to work in total confidence and trust with the Irish government."
Mr Kenny said Ireland would have "open access" to Mr Barnier and his team as the negotiations commence.