Northern Ireland

Irish border: EU calls for 'imaginative solution' to avoid hard border

Brexit Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The UK and Irish governments do not want to see a return to customs posts along the Irish border

The European Union's draft guidelines for Brexit negotiations call for "flexible and imaginative solutions" to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The EU says that any solution needs to "respect the integrity of the EU legal order."

That is understood to refer to how customs controls will be enforced between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The UK and Irish governments have repeatedly said they do not want a return to customs posts at the border.

The draft guidelines also state that the EU should "recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements" between the UK and Ireland which are compatible with EU law.

That is understood to refer to the Common Travel Area (CTA) which is a bilateral UK-Ireland arrangement. It has existed since 1922 and allows for free movement of UK and Irish citizens between Ireland, Northern Ireland the rest of the UK.

It also allows Irish and UK citizens to access various services and benefits in each country such as the right to work, to access public services and to vote in certain elections.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has described the continuation of the CTA as "non-negotiable" and the Irish government have it as one of its Brexit priorities.

The EU guidelines have been published by European Council President Donald Tusk.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Theresa May triggered Article 50 on Wednesday

They suggest that UK trade talks could begin once "sufficient progress" is made on a separation deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Wednesday, starting a two-year countdown to the UK's exit from the EU.

She said there would be "no return to the borders of the past" and said the Conservative Party has a "preference that Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK".

Mrs May's Article 50 letter says the government wants to avoid a return to a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area and to make sure that the UK's withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland.

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