Northern Ireland

Brexit: French farming leader calls for 'hard border' on island of Ireland

A lorry crosses the Irish border Image copyright PA
Image caption Currently, about 6,000 heavy goods vehicles cross the Irish border on a daily basis without restrictions

The president of a French farming union has called for the re-introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

Christophe Hillairet expressed concern that food produced outside the European Union could easily cross a "soft" Irish border and enter EU markets.

He is the president of the Chamber of Agriculture of Ile de France.

However, his comments were criticised as "disappointingly self-centred" by an Irish dairy industry leader.

Speaking to the Agra Europe website, [£] Mr Hillairet said he was worried that the British government will sign deals to import food from Commonwealth countries post-Brexit and that those products could then be transported across a future EU land border via Northern Ireland.

'Very dangerous'

"Ireland is a big problem but for the French farmer, we will need to have a hard border between the north and the Republic, as otherwise we will have a lot of products that will cross from north to south.

"That would be very dangerous for our producers."

Both the British and Irish governments have repeatedly said they do not want a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, expressing concerns over the potential impact on the economy and the Northern Ireland peace process.

Single market

However, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that there will have to be some form of customs controls along the Irish border after Brexit.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The EU's Michel Barnier (centre) visited businesses along the Irish border last week to assess the impact on trade

On a two-day visit to the Republic of Ireland last week, Mr Barnier said: "We want to find solutions without rebuilding any kind of hard border, but we have to find solutions also compatible with the single market."

Mr Hillairet has been president of the Chamber of Agriculture of Ile de France since 2006.

He told Agra Europe that he believed it was "simply not possible to have a soft Brexit and still maintain the advantage which the EU has a trading bloc".

He urged remaining EU member states to "work together to protect Europe".

'Common good'

Mr Hillairet's remarks were criticised by the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), John Comer.

He argued that the interests of Irish border communities, who had suffered during Northern Ireland's Trouble, must also be protected.

Mr Comer said that "with respect to our French friends, we would prefer them to reflect on the common good and not just on their own particular sectoral anxieties".

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