Britain and the EU need to reach agreement on the Northern Ireland border issue by June, Michel Barnier today warned.
Many of the operational details have yet to be agreed and the vexed question of the UK’s only land border with an EU state after Brexit is at the centre of intensive work by officials at present.
Mr Barnier said: ‘We need to agree rapidly by June on the scope of all-island customs and regulations, the safety and controls that we need to respect the single market.’
He said the June meeting of European leaders in Brussels would be a ‘stepping stone’ for the final summit in October, which is the deadline for reaching an agreement on withdrawal.
A joint report on the UK’s withdrawal agreed in December by Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker included both British proposals, along with a third ‘backstop’ option which would keep Northern Ireland in the customs union.
But a version published by the EU in February and agreed by the EU27 last month contained only the ‘backstop’, effectively drawing a customs border down the Irish Sea, which a furious Mrs May said ‘no British prime minister could ever agree’.
Mr Barnier visited the Irish border town of Dundalk, Co Louth, for a conference on Monday.