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Britain warned off using Ireland as 'test case' for how Brexit will work with the EU

The Irish government says it “welcomes and supports” the EU’s position.

Belgium Europe Brexit Michel Barnier addressing a press conference in Brussels today Source: AP/PA Images

Updated 10.45pm

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has published its first formal papers today on its expectations for the Brexit negotiations with the UK.

And the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned Britain off from using its relations with Ireland as a ‘test case’ for how it hopes to process its new trading links with the EU after leaving the union.

“What I see in the UK paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me,” Barnier told a press conference earlier in Brussels.

The UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen.

While calling for “creativity and flexibility” in all sides’ approach to negotiations, Barnier said that “cannot be at the expense of the integrity of the single market and customs union”, adding that to do so would not “be fair for Ireland and it would not be fair for the European Union”.

Earlier, in outlining its “guiding principles for the dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland”, the EU said that the “onus to propose solutions which overcome the challenges created on the island of Ireland… remains with the United Kingdom”.

The approach from the EU echoes that of the Irish government, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last month that it was incumbent on Britain to come up with solutions to the border issue, and that Ireland would not assist in coming up with them.

The EU said: “A thorough understanding of the other issues beyond customs arrangements which are relevant to the border is also required in order to move forward to discussing solutions in the context of the dialogue with the United Kingdom.

It is the responsibility of the United Kingdom to ensure that its approach to the challenges of the Irish border in the context of its withdrawal from the European Union takes into account and protects the very specific and interwoven political, economic, security, societal and agricultural context and frameworks on the island of Ireland.

Brexit A mock border post set up at Ravensdale by protesters in February of this year. Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

With the possibility of the UK leaving the EU Single Market, it raises the potential of a return to border posts between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Theresa May’s government has, however, said on several occasions that it has no wish to “return to the borders of the past”.

The EU said that the Good Friday Agreement will need to work effectively for the peace process to continue.

“Ensuring the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland is central to protecting the gains of the peace process underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement,” it said.

In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required to avoid a hard border, including any physical border infrastructure.

From the European perspective, the responsibility lies squarely with the UK to figure out how it handles the situation in Northern Ireland.

It also singled out the common travel area and said that the continuation of these arrangements should be recognised.

In a statement today, the Irish government said it “welcomes and supports” the paper from the European Commission, while also indicating that Britain now needs to step up and offer “workable” solutions.

“The paper clearly reflects the continuing close engagement between Ireland and the EU Task Force and builds on the European Council Guidelines and subsequent negotiation mandate, in which Ireland’s concerns and priorities were strongly acknowledged,” it said.

The Irish Government welcomed last month’s UK position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland which was a timely and helpful input. However the UK’s aspirations need to be backed by substantive commitments and workable solutions.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs also welcomed the EU’s stance.

Its chairman, Michael Healy-Rae, said: “It is clear that the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, in particular the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area, are fully recognised, which is very much appreciated.

“Now, we must continue dialogue and talk about potential ways in which those problems may be addressed to the benefit of all citizens affected.”

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said it is “strong support for protecting the peace process and Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts”.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

Read: ‘Ireland has been a godsend to me’: Tory MEP on why he took out an Irish passport

Read: Nigel Farage accuses EU of being “only barrier” to open border with Northern Ireland

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