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EU task force boss says 'rapid' agreement on border issues needed before June

An All Island Brexit Dialogue was held in Dundalk today.

(Left to right) Michel Barnier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney after a press conference at the Dundalk Institute of Technology.
(Left to right) Michel Barnier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney after a press conference at the Dundalk Institute of Technology.
Image: Niall Carson

THE HEAD OF the European Union’s Brexit taskforce has warned the UK that there must be rapid progress on the outstanding border issues before the June deadline.

Speaking at the All Island Brexit Dialogue in Dundalk today, Michel Barnier said the UK has yet to propose any practical solutions as to how the border with Northern Ireland might work.

“We need to agree rapidly by June the scope of alignment…We want to succeed with the UK, not against the UK,” he said, adding:

“Together with the Irish government we are looking for practical solutions.”

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney was also keen to hammer home the point that the UK needs to, at the very least, begin to vocalise and set out concrete solutions.

There has been some commentary around the solutions for the border being pushed on to the October Council meeting. Coveney indicated today that all the details do not need to be finalised come June, but added that the UK must outline their position on the border solutions.

“I think we have use the time from now to June to find this operational solution for Ireland,” added Barnier, who said that until an agreement is reached, there will be no withdrawal agreement.

He added that the EU is willing to work with any solution put forward – but ideas need to be put on the table.

Earlier in the day, Barnier told reporters that there is a risk the Brexit talks will fail over the Ireland issue.

A “clear and operational solution for Ireland” needs to be included in the Brexit deal, he said, adding: “Until we reach this agreement, there is a risk”.

“June is a stepping stone for the withdrawal,” he said, but gave a clear warning:

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“On Ireland let me clear. Only Irish specific solutions will work.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland remains united with the EU task force on the Irish issues.

We still have much work to do. The European Council will review all the withdrawal issues at our meeting in June, with a view to finalising work on the withdrawal agreement in October.
It is essential that we see real and solid progress by June if the negotiations are to move forward. There is less than a year until the UK leaves. And without a solution to the Irish border there can be no withdrawal agreement. Let there be no doubt about that.

Leaders of Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, who were also in attendance today, reiterated the points made that the UK needed to outline how it will avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Mary Lou McDonald said the “time is now” for the UK government to put forward real, tangible and workable solutions.

Meanwhile, Micheál Martin said he was concerned about terms such as “substantive progress” being bandied about by government. The Irish government needs to be clear and outline what it specifically needs to get from the UK government at the June EU Council meeting.

He said it was time for the Irish government to take a “firm” position at the next EU gathering.

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