Unionists angry at “border is British Brexit problem”

Irish News. Belfast. Friday, September 8, 2017

UNIONISTS reacted angrily last night to the EU’s insistence that finding a solution to keeping the Irish border open after Brexit was a British problem.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was worried by positions already set out by the UK on the border.

He was speaking after the EU published papers setting out its negotiating position on issues including the border and customs arrangements.

In a four-page document, Brussels called for flexible and imaginative solutions to avoid a hard border in the wake of Brexit.

However, Mr Barnier and his team stopped short of offering solutions on how cross-border trade and travel would be protected, saying the onus was on the UK.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds described the intervention as “unhelpful”.

“It would be foolish to view it as anything other than an effort to exert pressure on the UK negotiators as talks continue on wider aspects of the negotiations. It is wrong that Border issues and the genuine concerns held by those living and working in affected communities can be exploited in this way,” she said.

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson went further and accused Mr Barnier of potentially “destabilising” relationships between Britain and Ireland.

“Michel Barnier and his colleagues need to start listening and stop cherry-picking elements of the Belfast Agreement. The principle of consent underpins the agreement and I warn him, that if he is not careful, he runs the risk of destabilising relationships across these islands,” he said.

Nationalists welcomed the EU paper.

Sinn Féin TD and Brexit spokesman David Cullinane said the entire island of Ireland should remain with the EU.

“The paper recognises the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and the need for flexible and imaginative solutions to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and ensure there is no EU frontier across Ireland,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Barnier had outlined the principles “which point the path to the only sensible, credible, and workable position for the island of Ireland”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is “very happy” with the EU paper.