Speaking during a conference regarding this Irish border town of Dundalk he warned that there will be a risk of collapse for the UK’s departure from the EU if there is no agreement made that will somehow prevent a hard border in the region.
Negotiators for Britain say they are working towards a different schedule than the European Commission, they believe the issue should be clarified by October and that the European Commission need to give them more time to agree on the terms set forward.
The Commission has expressed concern following the lack of progression on talks regarding the issue, which started early this year. Now with only 2 months until the EU’s deadline, it is unlikely terms will be agreed by then.
Speaking about the matter, Barnier said: “We need to agree rapidly by June the scope of alignment, what I call the safety controls that are ... to respect the single market, We want to succeed with the UK, not against the UK. Together with the Irish government we are looking for practical solutions.”
He felt that a “self-standing backstop” is required to stop an hard borders being developed between Republic and Northern Ireland. Agreement was reached that said a system like this would be required, though nothing technical or in detail has come to fruition since talks began.
Barnier continued:“The UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union creates a risk that the hard border will return. This is why it is necessary to have a self-standing backstop solution, the backstop is not there to change the UK's red lines. It is there because of the UK's red lines.”
He said there is “real risk” that these talks to reach an agreement on border terms could shatter if not negotiated in-time, resulting in a hard border.
His statement was released after Arlene Foster (DUP leader) claimed that the chief negotiator doesn’t understand the unionist views on the border in place. Continuing that Barnier “hasn’t really responded” to any of their troubles with this change.
“His proposal of us being in an all-Ireland regulatory scenario with a border down the Irish Sea simply does not work, it does not work constitutionally, politically and it certainly does not work from an economic perspective."
She continued: “We've tried to get him to understand the unionist position for the people of Northern Ireland but he hasn't really responded and I'm disappointed about that. I don't think he does understand the wider unionist culture of Northern Ireland.”
Before Barnier carried out his visit, a spokesperson for the Commission stated: “Mr Barnier has already met unionist and nationalist politicians in both Brussels and Strasbourg.
But the particular focus of this trip will be to meet business stakeholders from across Northern Ireland, including cross-border groups and companies in the border areas of Newry/Dundalk and Derry-Londonderry/Letterkenny and rural representatives in Dungannon.”
Barnier’s comments were given following the EU parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator stated that any deal for NI in October would be “too late” because many other issues and concerns have to be raised or agreed to by June. Which is why they wanted to finalise any aspects of the deal regarding Northern Ireland.
British politicians are certain that there will still be a solution to the border even if an agreement is not met by October, but they are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. They are leading discussions on the future relationship for trade between Europe and Ireland, which started last week after months of no discussions taking place.
Brussels continues stating that the withdrawal agreement must fall within their terms for rights if Britain wants to maintain a relationship with the EU following Brexit. This includes following their terms on: citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, transition period, and Northern Ireland border. If these terms are not agreed by October, it could mean permanent damage on the trade relationship between the UK and EU.
Britain is set to depart the EU on March 29, 2019. Meaning the only opportunity to reach an agreement (if possible) following the summit in October would be a final summit in December 2018. The summit following December wouldn’t be until March 21st, 2019, just over a week before the UK is set to depart the EU. A bit late to continue any discussions on Brexit terms and a date both sides want to avoid leaving talks until.
Some representatives (including those in the EU) feel an in-depth deal agreed in October would be more beneficial than any terms rushed to be completed for the June deadline.
More recently Arlene Foster claimed Mr Barnier spoke to her in an aggressive tone, feeling that he is not being “an honest broker” while talks are taking place.
A concern for HGV drivers would be a hard border between both parts of Ireland, which would cause significant delays for travel and require further documentation which could damage the trade relationship on an international scale for Ireland overall.