Barnier told NI businesses have no interest in borders

EU chief Brexit negotiator eschews ‘any kind of polemics’ with DUP leader

Business leaders have told Michel Barnier they have no interest in borders being erected on the island or between Ireland and Britain.

By the time the European Union's chief negotiator had arrived at the Intertrade Ireland cross-Border business development agency in Newry at about 3.30pm on Monday, Mr Barnier had tired of answering questions about DUP discontent with him.

It had been suggested he does not understand unionism and is not an "honest broker" in the Brexit negotiations.

On how difficult it may be to resolve the border question amid tensions between the Government, the EU and the DUP, Mr Barnier said he “respected all opinions”.


“I don’t want to engage or begin any kind of polemics with Arlene Foster,” he said.

At a brief press conference, Mr Barnier told reporters he was “working for no border” and welcomed the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of business leaders from both sides of the Border in Newry.

On the suggestion the UK does not have a full understanding of the challenges Brexit poses for manufacturing and agriculture in Northern Ireland, Mr Barnier said: “I am aware of these concerns, it’s the reason why I am here.”

‘Complex negotiation’

He also said he was pleased to visit Newry in the context of “difficult, complex and extraordinary negotiation of the Brexit”.

And he spoke of the EU’s agreement with the UK government “to maintain the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions, protect and maintain the all-island economy and the various co-operations.”

Stephen Kelly from Manufacturing NI said business representatives had never had the opportunity to meet representatives from the EU side directly involved in negotiations so he was pleased to have the chance to reflect members' concerns about Brexit.

“Today was critically important for Mr Barnier and his team to understand that the business community has a view and a voice and it needs that to be heard in these negotiations,” he said.

“And the business community isn’t afraid of the backstop provided that the unfettered access to the UK market continues and we wanted to make sure the negotiators from the EU really understood the importance of the UK market to businesses here as well as the importance of the all-island and European market.”