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Michel Barnier talks to the press

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Michel Barnier talks to the press thumbnailMichel Barnier talks to the press

MICHEL Barnier said that he was here to listen and engage with border businesses during his visit to Newry yesterday (Monday).

As part of his whistlestop tour of the island, the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator held a meeting with a conglomerate of local business representatives in Intertrade Ireland and said outside the event that the conservation of the Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions was paramount.

Speaking of the "extraordinary" negotiations between the UK Government and the remaining 27 EU member states, Mr Barnier emphasised the need for dialogue between all parties as being key to achieving a favourable outcome.

Mr Barnier said: "I am very happy to be in Newry and to be coming back to Northern Ireland to take contact with this very difficult, complex and extraordinary negotiations of the Brexit."

The Brexit negotiator believes that the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement was key to consolidating the strength of the economy on both sides of the border.

He said: "As you know, we agreed with the UK Government to maintain the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions, to protect and maintain the whole island's economy and the values, the cooperation south and north.

"I am very happy to be able today to meet and listen and to dialogue with a diverse group of businesses of all of Northern Ireland."

Dismissing Arlene Foster accusations of disrespect and aggression towards Unionists in Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, Mr Barnier said that he didn't want to get involved with a polemical debate with the DUP leader.

"I don't want to engage or begin any kind of polemics with Arlene Foster," he said.

"I am here to listen, to dialogue and to understand and respect all the opinions and to find the right way to technical, operational and practical solutions, maintain the whole Ireland economy, the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions and also to find a way for no border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and also respect the single market and the customs union as we leave."

Mr Barnier said that his political background engaging with farmers, small businesses and local economies in his native France at the start of his political career will enable him to empathise with such people's fears in Ireland as the Brexit negotiations advance towards their conclusion next year.

"I am not here in front of you as a technocrat from Brussels," he explained.

"I was elected from the region of Savoy, France. I will never forget what I learnt during that time from small businesses, farmers, the people on the ground. I have always worked with those people to make progress."

Earlier in the day, Mr Barnier spoke at a Dundalk conference where  admitted that he still finds the rationale for Brexit hard to fathom.

However, he conceded he had to respect the democratic vote of the UK population to leave.

"The paradox is that Brexit is not about progress and it's not a project. There is no added-value with Brexit.

"Nobody has proved it so far that Brexit has added-value. But we have to respect it, as the decision was taken in a democratic vote."

"Over the last 20 years, the Good Friday Agreement has meant - of course - far more than just removing customs and physical barriers. It removed borders on maps but also in minds.

"The Good Friday Agreement created wide-ranging cooperation between North and South, and between communities: from energy and food safety, education and research to human rights, or the cooperation between young people.

"All of this was made possible thanks to the open border. All of this should be protected and cherished. So, there is no way back. There is no alternative but to protect this progress. The consequences of Brexit should not and must not lead to the return of a hard border, neither on maps nor in minds.

"In December, the UK agreed that, unless and until another solution is found, Northern Ireland will maintain full alignment with the rules of the Single Market and the Customs Union which support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy, and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement."

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