Brexit negotiator says EU will not allow Ireland to suffer

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt tells Dáil ‘Irish Border and all things related are a priority’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt on his arrival at Government Buildings, Dublin, where Mr. Verhofstadt will address a special meeting of three Oireachtas Committee in the Dail chamber. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday September 21, 2017. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt on his arrival at Government Buildings, Dublin, where Mr. Verhofstadt will address a special meeting of three Oireachtas Committee in the Dail chamber. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday September 21, 2017. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator has said that Europe will not allow Ireland to suffer because of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Guy Verhofstadt told the Dáil on Thursday that Ireland was crucial to the EU and that the “Irish Border and all things related are a priority” in the Brexit negotiations.

Last month Britain set out its position on Northern Ireland and said it was determined to avoid physical infrastructure on the Border. However, the EU has questioned whether this is possible and has said it is Britain’s responsibility to come up with a practicable solution.

“What we will never allow is that Ireland will suffer from the British decision to leave the EU,” Mr Verhofstadt said.

“That is a commitment that has been made by the European Parliament and by the EU as a whole.”

He said the interests of Ireland were part and parcel of the interests of the EU and the Irish position was the European position. The re-emergence of the Border question had not been caused by the Republic or the rest of the EU, he said. It was up to the UK to come up with a solution, he added.

“It is the inevitable consequence of the choice of Britain to leave the EU, so the resolution of this issue is entirely the responsibility of the United Kingdom, ’’ he siad.

Mr Verhofstadt was addressing members of the Oireachtas committees on European Union Affairs; Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence; and the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in the Dáil chamber on Thursday.

He said the Border was in no way a natural one, it was not a river, nor a mountain range. “It meanders for 310 miles through meadows, forests, farmlands,” he said.

On Wednesday evening he visited a Border farm in Co Monaghan, remarking that it was impossible to see where one jurisdiction begins and the other ends.

Mr Verhofstadt described the Border as an “illogical divide” and called for it to remain invisible. “Certainly the cows couldn’t see it. Cows from the North eating grass from the South, milked in the North by a farmer from the South with their milk bottled in the South,” he said.

Instinctive surrealist

“I’m a Belgian so surrealism comes naturally to me, but to reinstate the Border would be more than surreal, it would be totally absurd, even for me.”

He said borders could run through people’s hearts and minds and breed division, discrimination and hostility. Borders were best when they were just lines on maps, Mr Verhofstadt added.

He also criticised the views of British foreign secretary Boris Johnson for accusing his fellow countrymen of split allegiance because they want to retain a European identity.

Replying to a series of questions from TDs and Senators, Mr Verhofstadt said he had discussed the practical consequences of dealing with Brexit during his visit to Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

He said he had spoken a lot about the general position of the Irish economy and the threats posed by Brexit. He had taken on board very practical suggestions that could be incorporated in an agreement with the UK, he said.

Mr Verhofstadt said he had noted the suggestion made by Oireachtas members that the Belfast Agreement be included as an annex to the withdrawal agreement.