Brexit talks 'at risk' from Irish border issue - Barnier

By Sanya Burgess, News Reporter
The European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator has warned that until an agreement on the Irish border is reached "there is a risk" that talks will fail.
At a press conference during his visit to Ireland, Michel Barnier said there was a need for a "clear and operational solution for Ireland" to be included in the Brexit deal.He said: "Until we reach this agreement, there is a risk".Mr Barnier told reporters he wants Britain and the EU to reach an agreement on the Irish border by June, a date he sees as a "stepping stone" towards October when the transition deal is due to be formalised.Brexit Secretary David Davis tweeted last week that he was "determined to get [the border problem] agreed by October".
Today I started what promises to be a busy week in Northern Ireland. As we leave the EU it's essential both the UK and EU do what it takes to keep the border, which I saw this morning, free from physical infrastructure. We are determined to get this agreed by October.— David Davis (@DavidDavisMP) April 23, 2018
Irish leader Leo Varadkar, who was part of the press conference, denied Ireland and the EU were attempting a land grab over the reported proposal for a border in the Irish Sea."There is absolutely no question of Ireland or the European Union being interested in a land grab from Northern Ireland. That is not our agenda, whatsoever. We are totally committed to the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Varadkar said.Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to avoid a hard border with checkpoints between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, which is seen as being vital to maintaining the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.Complicating matters, Mrs May has also pledged that Britain will not to stay in the EU customs union once it has left the bloc.
Brexit talks 'at risk' from Irish border issue - Barnier

Michel Barnier (left) held a press conference with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre)
The EU has suggested a "backstop" proposal, in which only Northern Ireland stays in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit.
"The backstop we put in the draft treaty, is not there to change the UK red lines, it is there because of the UK red lines, because of the red lines on the customs union and single market," said Mr Barnier.The European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator added he was open to other proposals.Mr Varadkar echoed Mr Barnier's sentiments, warning that Britain's "approach to negotiations will need to change in some way" if there is to be agreement over the issue.
Brexit talks 'at risk' from Irish border issue - Barnier

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Mr Barnier, who refused to go into detail on negotiations, told reporters his "door is open" and that "there is no spirit of revenge [or] of punishment" from the EU in the Brexit negotiations.Characterising himself as "determined" rather than optimistic or pessimistic over the Brexit negotiations, he said he was focused on finding "practical solutions to a complex problem."Earlier, DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed Mr Barnier does not understand unionist culture in Northern Ireland.
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Mrs Foster said: "He's hearing a very strong message from the Republic of Ireland's government, he's hearing it from Sinn Fein."We have tried to get him to understand the unionist position for the people of Northern Ireland, but he hasn't really responded to that, and I'm disappointed about that."
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