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EU chief calls UK's Irish border Brexit plans 'worrying and unfair'

Michel Barnier accused the UK of attempting to suspend EU law on the Irish border, including the customs union and the single market, in a kind of "test".
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The EU's chief negotiator said he is worried by the UK's proposals for the Northern Ireland border.

Michel Barnier accused the UK of attempting to suspend EU law on the Irish border, including the customs union and the single market, in a kind of "test".

He said Brexit Secretary David Davis and the UK negotiating team were trying to use the Irish border as a "test case".

"This will not happen," he said.

Britain has said it wants an "unprecedented solution", avoiding physical checks at the border when it leaves the EU's customs union.

The British government is arguing for an exemption under which, for example, small and medium-sized businesses would not have to comply with any new customs tariffs.

Unveiling the EU's position this morning, Mr Barnier said: "What I see in the UK's paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me."

He added: "Creativity and flexibility can't be at the expense of the integrity of the single market and customs union.

"This would be not fair for Ireland and it would not be fair for the European Union."

The European Union this morning said it is willing to offer Northern Ireland a different Brexit deal to the rest of the UK.

The EU argued for a "unique solution" so people can travel freely across the border, although the onus to sort this out "remains on the UK".

Read the EU's document on Northern Ireland

The EU document stresses the importance of maintaining the terms of the Good Friday Agreement after fears were raised that a return to border checks could undermine the Good Friday peace agreement and damage the economy.

The document said: "As an essential element of the withdrawal process, there needs to be a political commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, to protecting the gains of the peace process, and to the practical application of this on the island of Ireland."

The paper proposed allowing people to continue to cross the border to work, study and receive medical treatment.

It said the UK should take responsibility for finding a "unique solution" so people can continue to cross the Irish border to work, study and receive medical treatment and this "must be achieved in a way which ensures that Ireland's place within the Internal Market and Customs Union is unaffected."

No deal on Brexit would be 'utter and complete disaster'

Responding to the EU's document, the British government said: "We welcome the Commission's position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland, which continues to demonstrate that the UK and EU's objectives on this issue are closely aligned.

"In particular the commitment to avoid any physical infrastructure at the border is a very important step forward. As the UK's position paper set out, this is a crucial objective for the Government given the importance of the Northern Ireland peace process.

"We were clear on our position paper that the nature of the border means that an agreed, reciprocal solution must be found. Unilateral UK flexibility will not be sufficient to meet our shared objectives, which is why we welcome the Commission’s continued recognition of the need for flexible and imaginative solutions.

"The UK looks forward to further engagement through the negotiating dialogue we have established with the Commission. The UK position paper and this Commission position paper clearly provide a good basis on which to continue to make swift progress."

The Dublin government called on the British government to make "substantive commitments and workable solutions" to the question of the border.

"The principles reflected in this paper must underpin any arrangements and solutions to be proposed, developed and agreed in future negotiations," the Irish Government said.

The Brussels paper warned that the UK and Europe will have to assess how north-south cooperation could be impacted if and when EU law ceases to apply in Northern Ireland and whether specific provisions need to be made for this.

Mr Barnier's team said Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland must keep their rights as EU citizens.

They called for both London and Brussels to commit to paying what is due under peace dividend funding programmes.

The Brussels paper also described the Common Travel Area, which dates back to the 1920s, as a fundamental right which should be maintained. It said it underpins the peace process.

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