EU says Irish border will not be a 'Brexit' test case for Britain

The Irish border cannot be the test case for Britain’s relations with Europe in the wake of Brexit, it has been warned.

Brussels’ chief negotiator Michael Barnier fired a sharp rebuke at London as he called for a unique solution for the island of Ireland.

"What I see in the UK’s paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me," he said.

Setting out Europe’s position on the critical border issue, Mr Barnier accused Theresa May’s Government of trying to get the European Union to suspend its laws, customs unions and single market along the six counties of Northern Ireland.

"And the UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen," Mr Barnier said.

The Brussels team refused to use the publication of their negotiating papers to offer solutions or ideas on avoiding a hard border and checkpoints on the island of Ireland. Mr Barnier claimed the onus was on London.

Reports in Ireland suggested the document was heavily influenced by Dublin.

In response, Brexit Secretary David Davis’s office claimed that Europe’s commitment to avoid checkpoints along the Irish border was a "very important step forward".

"As the UK’s position paper set out, this is a crucial objective for the Government given the importance of the Northern Ireland peace process," the UK Government said.

The Irish border is effectively invisible. It is 500km long, with 260 road crossings, a Dublin-Belfast rail link, tourist waterways and 2 million cars moving back and forth every month.

In Dublin, the Irish Government said its priorities remain protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process by avoiding a hard border and maintaining the Common Travel Area.

It called on Mrs May’s Government to make "substantive commitments and workable solutions" on the question of the Irish border.

Mr Barnier’s negotiating paper, Guiding Principles for the Dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland, effectively ruled out the Irish question being used as a template for any other EU-UK border.

It said Brexit had to protect the very specific and interwoven "political, economic, security, societal and agricultural" issues on the island of Ireland.

People in Northern Ireland should retain the right to British and Irish citizenship, Mr Barnier said.

His paper called for the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process to be protected and strengthened, including the societal benefits and the normalisation of community relations in Northern Ireland and north-south.

Mr Barnier’s team said rights must be secured, including protection against discrimination, and London and Brussels must pay what is due under peace dividend funding.

The Brussels paper warned that the UK and Europe will have to assess how north-south cooperation could be impacted if and when EU law ceases to apply in Northern Ireland and whether specific provisions need to be made for this.

Democratic Unionist MEP Diane Dodds said putting the onus for solutions on the UK was unhelpful and designed to pile pressure on London.

"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.

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said: "The solution is clear from the EU paper, what is required is for the north to be designated special status within the EU. That is the way forward."

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