Brexit

Michel Barnier says EU goal is to protect peace and the single market

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (left) with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press conference in Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Michel Barnier has said the EU's goal is to protect peace in Ireland and the single market in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking during a visit to Dublin yesterday, he said the EU will stand fully behind the Republic and the EU's 27 member states would remain fully united.

"If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal we would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as for citizens' rights and the financial settlement," Mr Barnier said.

"You have our full support and, I have said before, the backstop is currently the only solution we have found to maintain the status quo on the island of Ireland."

The EU chief negotiator expressed confidence a solution would be found on how to protect the Good Friday Agreement all-Ireland structures as well as the integrity of the single market.

"There have been intensive discussions between our teams over the past (few) weeks," he said.

"Our goal is to protect the Good Friday Agreement, peace on this island and the integrity of the single market."

He said that future work on the customs union could be done extremely quickly.

Mr Barnier also expressed hope that Conservative and Labour talks in London on a Brexit compromise would reach a "positive outcome" and that Britain's parliamentary process must be respected.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar voiced confidence that the EU27 would reach agreement at tomorrow's European Council meeting of leaders.

He reiterated that, although he wishes to see a deal ratified, contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit has intensified in Dublin and that the Republic would be open to an extension.

"A no-deal Brexit would be damaging for everyone – for the United Kingdom, Ireland and the European Union," he said.

But DUP MEP Diane Dodds said no one was "ever building a new hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic" but that the British government had been "outmanoeuvred by Brussels".

"Michel Barnier and Leo Varadkar's warm words about hard borders and the peace process ring hollow when compared to their obsession with a backstop which would be offensive to unionists and fundamentally undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom," she said.

"Their actions and determination to foist a bad deal for the union on the United Kingdom betray the words being uttered by their lips."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "If Leo Varadkar and Michel Barnier really did think so much of the Belfast Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland, then they would start to respect the views of unionists and listen to what people in Northern Ireland are actually saying about how they want their relationship going forward."

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