Michel Barnier pledges to meet unionist MEPs

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson (right) at a recent meeting in Strasbourg

MICHEL Barnier plans to meet the north's two unionist MEPs in the coming weeks after Diane Dodds and Jim Nicholson were unable to have face-to-face talks with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator during a visit to the north.

The European Commission had invited the region's three MEPs to meet Mr Barnier in Derry yesterday but only Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson attended.

When it emerged last week that he planned to visit Newry and Derry, the two unionist MEPs issued a joint statement urging Mr Barnier to "hear views from across Northern Ireland".

Mrs Dodds said she had previous commitments in London and could not meet Mr Barnier, while Mr Nicholson said he was also unable to attend.

Efforts to arrange meetings tomorrow in Brussels also came to nothing.

The DUP had initially said Mrs Dodds would meet Mr Barnier, only for the discussions to be cancelled after it emerged that the chief Brexit negotiator had diary commitments.

Mr Nicholson issued a statement yesterday insisting that he did not – and neither intends to – snub Mr Barnier.

The Ulster Unionist MEP said he received the invitation on Friday evening, which he regarded as "very short notice".

Mr Nicholson also complained that Sinn Féin appeared to have a "better knowledge" of Mr Barnier's visit but insisted that blame did not lie with the European Commission.

"The fact is that I meet regularly with Michel Barnier and other senior EU officials in order to put forward the unionist perspective on Brexit and all other matters pertaining to Northern Ireland," he said.

The European Commission said Mr Barnier would meet both unionist MEPs at the earliest opportunity.

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