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Brexit: EU sets out guiding principles for talks on Ireland

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Brexit: EU sets out guiding principles for talks on Ireland

Michel Barnier - Photo EC

(BRUSSELS) - The EU's chief negotiator voiced concern Thursday over the UK's stance on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as the Commission set out its principles for the political dialogue in the Brexit negotiations.

The Commission's guiding principles said the Good Friday Agreement should "continue to be protected and strengthened in all its parts after the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union". It also urged recognition of the 'Common Travel Area', which facilitates the interaction of people in Ireland and the UK.

But in a statement, chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was worried by what he sees in the UK's own paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He said the UK wanted the EU to suspend the application of its laws, its Customs Union, and its Single Market at what will be a new external border of the EU. He also suggested that the UK wanted to use Ireland as a 'test case' for the future EU-UK customs relations.

"This will not happen," he said. 'Creativity and flexibility' could not be "at the expense of the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union." This would not be fair, either for Ireland or for the European Union, he added.

For the Commission, key issues for this part of the Brexit talks include ensuring that: the interlocking political institutions on the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, established by the Good Friday Agreement, continue to operate; cooperation (in particular, North-South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland) is protected across all the relevant sectors; and that full account be taken of the birth right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as British or Irish, or both. Given Ireland's unique situation in the Brexit negotiations, a unique solution is required.

The EU executive said that in the first phase of Brexit talks, the EU was looking to reach a common understanding with the UK on the implications of its withdrawal for the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area.

It said that once there was 'sufficient progress' on the principles set out in today's paper, discussions could be allowed to move to the second phase of negotiations, which would aim to find 'flexible and imaginative solutions to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland'. These solutions, it said, must respect 'the proper functioning of the internal market and the Customs Union, as well the integrity and effectiveness of the EU's legal order'.

M Barnier says that as it was the UK's decision to leave the EU, it would be the UK's responsibility to propose solutions in this regard.

He said the Commission's paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland was "a concise and comprehensive text, which has been drafted in close cooperation with the Irish government. Our aim is to minimise the impact of the UK's decision to leave the EU for the island of Ireland. But as it was the UK's decision to leave the EU, it is the UK's responsibility to come forward with solutions to overcome the challenges for the island of Ireland."

The guidelines state that the aim of this dialogue is to reach a political agreement with the UK in order to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts – of which the UK is a co-guarantor under international law – as well as preserving the Common Travel Area, which predates Ireland and the UK's membership of the EU.

Text of the Guiding Principles for the Dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland

Information on the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area


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