The EU’s Brexit negotiator has set out his plans for “dedramatising” negotiations with the UK on the Irish border, insisting Brussels’ proposals would minimise any burdens for businesses and that he is open to the idea of a customs union with Britain.
Michel Barnier said on Wednesday that the EU had refined its planned “backstop” solution for Ireland, identifying solutions that would avoid a hard customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Mr Barnier said that Brussels was sticking to the broad thrust of its backstop plan, which would see Northern Ireland stay in the EU single market and customs union even once the UK has left, but he stressed that the proposals did not pose any territorial or constitutional threat to the UK.
“The UK wants to leave, and will leave the single market and the customs union — this means that there must be checks on goods travelling between EU and UK, and those checks do not exist today”, Mr Barnier told a conference of business leaders in Brussels, adding that “the EU proposes to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible”.
The Irish border is the crux issue of the final stage of Brexit talks, with EU leaders warning that decisive progress must be made at a summit meeting next week. UK prime minister Theresa May has warned that she will not accept any solution that leaves Northern Ireland in a separate customs regime, but Brussels has underlined that any exit deal must include a workable backstop plan.
Wednesday’s speech marked Mr Barnier’s most detailed explanation yet of how border checks under the backstop plan could be minimised.
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