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Northern Ireland border checks are now 'unavoidable' says chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier

Business Insider UK logoBusiness Insider UK 09/02/2018 feedback@businessinsider.com (Adam Bienkov)
a man wearing a suit and tie: Michel Barnier © Provided by Business Insider UK Michel Barnier

  • EU's chief negotiator says a hard Brexit border with Northern Ireland is now "unavoidable"
  • He says Theresa May's decision to leave the customs union makes border checks almost inevitable.
  • Barnier hits back at David Davis after the Brexit secretary accuses him of being "discourteous."
  • He says a transition deal is "not a given" if Britain remains inflexible.

LONDON — Border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, are now "unavoidable" following Theresa May's decision to leave the customs union and single market, the EU's chief negotiator has insisted.

Speaking at the end of the latest round of Brexit negotiations, Michel Barnier said the UK's commitment to a hard Brexit meant that new border checks would have to be installed.

"Once again it is important to tell the truth," Barnier said.

"A UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs union would make border checks unavoidable."

Barnier said the UK has to accept the "consequences" of its decisions.

Related: 'Northern Ireland will stay in Single Market after Brexit'

The row is the latest ramping up of tensions between the UK and EU during the opening of negotiations on Britain's planned two year Brexit transition period, after it leaves the EU in March 2019.

Related: Why the Irish border is a nightmare that could ultimately derail Brexit

The UK is seeking to negotiate a 'standstill' transition during which Britain will effectively remain within the single market and customs union in order to allow businesses to prepare for a complete break with the EU.

However, Barnier said that a deal could not be guaranteed, if Britain remains inflexible.

"The UK insisted that we should reach an agreement in March on transitional period. However, at the same time, our partners set out a number of disagreements which I see as substantial," he said.

"To be frank, if these disagreements persist, transition is not a given."

Barnier's comments follow those by the Brexit secretary David Davis on Thursday in which he accused the EU commission of "discourteous" behaviour by publishing EU guidelines which suggested the UK would be punished with sanctions if it failed to stick to the terms of any Brexit transition deal. 

The document suggested Britain's access to the single market could be restricted if Britain failed to live up to its promises in negotiations.

Under the plans released by the European Commission, Brussels would be able to "suspend certain benefits" of the internal market for the UK without the UK retaining any right of appeal.

Davis dismissed the proposal as a "political document" that had been published in bad faith.

"Well I have to say I thought that document was hardly a legal document," he said in a pooled interview released to journalists.

"It was a political document. What we’re about, is building an implementation period, which is to build a bridge to a future where we work well together. And I do not think it was in good faith to publish a document with frankly discourteous language, and actually implying that they could arbitrarily terminate in effect the implementation period. That's not what the aim of this exercise is, it's not in good faith, and we think it's unwise to publish that."

Barnier hit back at Davis denying that his behaviour had been "discourteous" in any way.

"Throughout this negotiations, my attitude has not been in the least discourteous or vindictive. We don't wish to punish the UK. It's totally foreign to my state of my mind," he said.

The row follows Barnier's insistence this week that the UK must make its mind up on Brexit. 

The EU's chief negotiator told reporters on Monday that the "time has now come to make a choice" on what sort of relationship it wants with the European Union after it leaves the bloc.

NOW SEE: Britain to world: Please pretend we're not leaving the EU

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