Republic of Ireland news

Michel Barnier says EU open to any deal which supports GFA

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier met business stakeholders and cross-border groups at the Guildhall in Derry. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Seamus McKinney

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier says the community will support any deal which safeguards the Good Friday Agreement.

On the second day of his visit to border areas, Mr Barnier met business leaders and other cross border groups in Derry before moving on to Dungannon. He also toured the city walls which were adorned with a huge banner pointing out that Derry had voted "remain" in the brexit referendum. A guide pointed out areas of the Bogside where the Bloody Sunday victims were killed in January 1972.

The brexit negotiator told a press conference at Derry’s Guildhall that after Brexit the north would still have access to EU funds established to support the peace process. However, Mr Barnier played down any speculation that payments to Northern Irish farmers under the common agriculture policy could continue after Brexit.

Mr Barnier said that with the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May accepted the need to maintain an all island economy in Ireland, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in its entirety.

“Now we have to find together the operational and practical solution to deliver. We have proposed one solution, the backstop, in our protocol. [There] could be another backstop; we have to discuss with the UK government.

“We are open to any solution that would be able to maintain the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions, the all-Ireland economy and also to respect the integrity of the single market. We have proposed one solution which is operational. I am ready to explain this solution to everybody,” Mr Barnier said.

The EU negotiator also refused to discuss the possibility of the Republic of Ireland being instructed to erect a hard border in the event that no deal is struck.

Mr Barnier said: “My line is to work for an orderly withdrawal of the UK, including an operational solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland; that is my line.”

Following today's meeting, Ulster University's Magee Provost, Malachy O'Neill said the discussion had been frank and open.

"I think he's minded to come up with a solution that works best for the unique scenario that we have in this region," Dr O'Neill said.

Earlier Sinn Fein MEP, Martina Anderson accused her unionist colleagues in the European Parliament of “bad manners” for failing to meet Mr Barnier during his two-day visit.

Ms Anderson said DUP and Ulster Unionist MEPs, Diane Dodds and Jim Nicholson had failed to represent the unionist people. She accused both of “snubbing” Mr Barnier.

“I think it’s political bad manners that the MEPs – and I have to saw the two council leaders from the DUP and UUP – were both invited here this morning and neither of them have turned up,” she said.

Both Mrs Dodds and Mr Nicholson welcomed Mr Barnier’s visit but expressed disappointment that it was announced by Sinn Féin MP, Elisha McCallion.

Mrs Dodds said she met the EU negotiator regularly in the European Parliament chamber.

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