Europe

Brexit Irish border answer can be found - EU's Barnier

Michael Barnier Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Brexit negotiations will firstly be "human, social and economic", the EU's Michel Barnier said

There is "always an answer" to the issue of what form the Irish border will take after Brexit, says the EU's chief negotiator.

Michel Barnier was speaking on a two-day visit to the Republic of Ireland ahead of the start of the Brexit talks.

He met business owners based near the Irish border who could be negatively affected if trade tariffs were imposed between the UK and EU.

On the border issue, he said: "There is always a road when there is a will."

Also speaking in the Republic of Ireland on Friday, Tony Blair warned that a hard border on the island would be a "disaster".

The former UK prime minister told a meeting of MEPs in County Wicklow he believed there was a "common desire" to make Northern Ireland a "special case" in Brexit talks.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Finding a solution on the post-Brexit Irish border is high on the EU's priority list

The UK and Irish governments have both said they do not want a return to customs posts on the border after the UK leave the EU.

The EU's negotiating guidelines call for a "flexible and creative" approach to the customs issue.

'Keep calm'

Mr Barnier visited a food export business in County Monaghan on Friday, saying that he wanted to "work with all these people on the ground to find solutions" to the border question.

He described the forthcoming Brexit talks as "extraordinary and very complex and difficult".

"This negotiation will not only be financial, legal or technical - in my view, it will first [be] human and social and economic," said the French politician.

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Media captionCharlie Flanagan: Open border is a must post-Brexit

"[That is] the reason why I want to meet the people on the ground and I want to manage the negotiation with the feet on the ground.

"We want to find solutions without rebuilding any kind of hard border, but we have to find solutions also compatible with the single market."

He also urged the UK government to "keep calm and negotiate".

'Common desire'

On Thursday, Mr Barnier said the Irish border issue would be one of his three priorities in the negotiations, adding that he would work to avoid a hard border.

But he emphasised that there would have to be some form of customs controls as a result of Brexit.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An open Irish border must be safeguarded as much as possible, Tony Blair said

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was "very pleased that Commissioner Barnier is on the border" in advance of the talks.

However, he told the BBC's Hardtalk programme that an open border is "a must in all circumstances".

"I say no to border posts; I say no to fences; I say no to hard border," said Mr Flanagan.

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