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    European Union's Chief Brexit Negotiator, French Michel Barnier, in charge of the preparation and conduct of the negotiations with Britain under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) speaks during a press conference on December 6, 2016, at the European Commission in Brussells.

    EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Addresses Irish Politicians Over Border Question

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    The EU's chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, met Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other politicians in the Irish Parliament, May 11 - the second time he has visited the country in his role - to press home his case for a soft border with the UK post-Brexit, in a sign of the immense sensitivity of the "Irish border" question.

    Customs controls were introduced on the frontier in April 1923, following the establishment of the Irish Free State, which saw the island of Ireland split between what is now Ireland, in the south, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. These controls were maintained, with varying degrees of severity, for 70 years, until 1 January 1993, when controls were withdrawn as part of the EU single market.

    ​The issue of border controls has been extremely sensitive, in view of the so-called Troubles throughout the 20th century, which escalated in the 1960 with violence between republicans — who want a united Ireland — and nationalists, who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the EU.

    There were police and army checkpoints throughout the Troubles, which were removed following the Good Friday Agreement, but their memory remains a sensitive issue.

    The situation was exacerbated following the referendum, June 23, 2016, in which the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU, but Northern Ireland (along with Scotland) voted to remain. Now, Barnier — who leads the Brexit negotiations on behalf of the Commission and the remaining EU 27 — must enforce the Commission's guidelines, which clearly state the Irish border question must be resolved at an early stage of Brexit talks.

    ​"The Union has consistently supported the goal of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and continuing to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process will remain of paramount importance," the guidelines say.

    "In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order. In this context, the Union should also recognize existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law."

    'Beyond Brexit'

    Addressing a meeting of the European People's Party, May 11, Taoiseach Kenny said the negotiations needed to be constructive in order to maintain trade and security over the frontier.

    ​"We cannot have a hard border as we had before. We believe it is crucial that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom is managed in a constructive and cooperative fashion. Ireland will compete for any opportunities that arise as a result of Brexit. Ireland offers many competitive advantages to companies. Europe's agenda goes beyond Brexit. It extends to a future of continued prosperity," Kenny said.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    border control, border checkpoints, Brexit, EU membership, peace process, European People's Party, European Union, Michel Barnier, Enda Kenny, Europe, Britain, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, Dublin, Ireland
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