Barnier moves to reassure unionists over Border backstop

EU’s chief Brexit negotiator says there will be no new border between NI and rest of UK

Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the European Union. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the European Union. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg


Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has sought to reassure unionists and the British government that the European Union’s proposal for a Border backstop will not create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Speaking to the Institute for International and European Affairs in Brussels, Mr Barnier said that any checks at ports on goods entering Northern Ireland would be strictly “technical and operational” in nature.

“We have no intention to create a border in the middle of the UK and we want to respect the constitutional order of the UK. I’m sure it is clearly possible if we put these controls at the right level, which is a technical, precise and operational level,” he said.

The EU’s proposal would avoid a land Border on the island of Ireland by treating Northern Ireland as part of the customs union and within parts of the single market and imposing checks on goods and agricultural products at ports and airports.

Limited set of rules

British prime minister Theresa May has rejected the proposal on the basis that it would create new barriers within the UK, but Mr Barnier said that only a “limited set of EU rules” would continue to apply in Northern Ireland.

He said veterinary checks and plant health rules would account for most of the checks, pointing out that livestock entering Northern Ireland from elsewhere in the UK are already subject to inspection on entry.

“Let me be clear: we are not asking for any new borders between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and all or part of the backstop can be replaced by an agreement on the future EU-UK relationship which addresses the specific issues relevant to a land border,” he said.

“We must all de-dramatise this backstop. We will obviously need to clarify how and where these controls will be done. But ultimately, these are only technical controls on goods, no more, no less.”

Mr Barnier said that the EU’s 27 member states were united in their determination to secure agreement on the Border backstop as part of Britain’s withdrawal agreement. He said Ms May had committed last December and again in March to agreeing a backstop and to addressing all the issues the EU’s proposal raised.

“The 27 have been very clear: we need a cast-iron guarantee to avoid a hard border, whatever the outcome of the negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. This so-called backstop would apply unless and until another solution is found that ensures at least the same fluidity of interactions in Ireland and the integrity of the single market. The UK has committed to this,” he said.