The European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said a ‘backstop’ option over the Irish border must remain in place as part of any Brexit solution.
Mr. Barnier said the guarantee option, which involves Northern Ireland aligning with the European Union rules and regulations to safeguard the economy of Ireland and avoid a hard border should talks on other options fail to secure agreement.
Speaking in the Guildhall in Derry on Tuesday, Mr Barnier also confirmed that Northern Ireland could still have access to PEACE funding and EU programmes post-Brexit during his visit to Derry.
When asked whether he foresaw access to Structural and PEACE programme funds remaining in place beyond Brexit he responded: “We must maintain co-operation between Northern Ireland and maintain the PEACE Programme.
“This week the European Commission will propose the new framework for the future financial perspective, 2021-26/27, and I can tell you we are ready to maintain the PEACE programme.”
He added: “The UK has decided to leave the EU policies including the agricultural policy, but in leaving the EU we can maintain this co-operation thanks to the INTERREG programme.
“In my view we have to maintain this PEACE programme for the future.”
In terms of a backstop deal over the border, Mr Barnier said it was a matter than had been signed up to by both the EU and Britain and must now be followed up on.
“The Prime Minister of the UK, Mrs May, has accepted in December and in March, with us, to recognise that we have to maintain the All-Ireland economy; the Peace Process; the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions and we have to follow together now because we agree on a political framework and now we have to find together the operational and practical solution,” he said, while stating that the “integrity of the Single Market” must also be maintained.
When questioned about the British Government’s attitude towards the problems posed to Ireland north and south as a result of Brexit, Mr Barnier said that he would never intervene in such internal matters.
Mr Barnier, who is negotiating on behalf of 27 countries in the European Union with Britain over Brexit was in Derry as part of his visit to Ireland and this week.
During his visit, he met with business leaders, the Mayor of Derry & Strabane Maolíosa McHugh and other local representatives. He listened to concerns raised over the problems any type of border would cause for people and businesses on both sides of the border. He also walked along the city’s Peace Bridge, one of several major infrastructural projects in Derry constructed with EU funding.
Mr Barnier said he was “very delighted to be in this historic and vibrant city”, adding: “I am delighted to meet with businesses today from all parts of Northern Ireland and to listen and understand their opinions,and also to explain how the EU proposed a solution, backstop, to avoid a hard border.”
Speaking at the Guildhall Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson welcomed Mr Barnier’s comments.
She said: “I am heartened to hear that he is very firm with regards to the backstop agreement. That it is the only workable solution and it is important people realise the British Government signed up to this in December. It is within the Draft Withdrawal Agreement and they actually signed up recently to the establishment of a Committee to oversee the implementation of the backstop. So in the one hand we hear from the British Government that they haven’t signed up and yet on the other we see work going on in the European Union Parliament.”
She said both the British Government and the EU had agreed that if they could not come to a solution over the Irish border, then the backstop was the only workable solution.
“I think it’s good news for us all because it means maintaining all regulatory alignment across the island, not just for north south co-operation, but also for the all-island economy and to protect the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.