Not exactly an unbiased report in the Daily Telegraph
Michel Barnier has denied trying to split up the United Kingdom after strongly backing plans that would create a new border between Britain and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
In an inflammatory address in Dundalk, Ireland on Monday, Mr Barnier denied there was a secret EU plan to pressure Britain into reversing Brexit by insisting on a backstop clause that would keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.
Arlene Foster wouldn’t play ball. The DUP leader wouldn’t even bring her ball over the border, choosing instead to stay on home turf. Just a short time before the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit kicked off on the campus, she cried foul. As far as the north’s unionists were concerned, Mr Barnier was “not an honest broker”. Oh dear, the carefully choreographed show of all-island unity had suddenly got a bit Messi. “There is no spirit of revenge, no spirit of punishment,” said a bemused Barnier.
The Times’ take on “the all-Ireland civic dialogue.”
The idea behind the conference was to engage with those people who have a dog in the Brexit fight. The interest was evident, as the spacious hall was packed for the almost day-long series of speeches, panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions. However there was another game afoot and that was to keep up the pressure on Theresa May’s government to arrive at a solution as to how to leave the EU, the single market and the customs union while ensuring that no border will materialise on Irish soil or in the middle of the Irish Sea.
Alas, no escape route from this boobytrapped maze has yet presented itself to a bamboozled bunch of Tories. So yesterday was about stiffening their trembling lips and reminding them of looming deadlines to find a solution while also trying to soothe the DUP’s ever-skittish horses. Leo was keen to stress that he wasn’t heading to the border to execute Korea-style reunification photo ops. “No-one in Ireland or the EU is interested in a land-grab,” he said soothingly.
Alas, the DUP were spoiling to wrest the limelight back to their own permanent perch on the moral high ground. After he left Dundalk, the taoiseach crossed the border to visit an integrated school and the Warrenpoint Harbour. Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, was thunderously displeased. “Poor manners….disrespect,” he harrumphed. Leo was unrepentant. He had indeed given advance notice to the Northern Ireland Office of his cross-border incursion. “I can assure anyone that I am not an invader, I just want to be a good neighbour,” he explained.
Poor Varad the Invader. It was all bordering on the ridiculous.
OK calling it an “all-Ireland dialogue” was waving a red rag to the unionist bull. As usual. Naturally, the Irish Times saw it differently.
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, came to the Border again and crossed it but first had to deny that the “backstop” option for the post-Brexit frontier was an EU land grab for Northern Ireland.
The suggestion, in a question from a journalist with the pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph, shows the extent to which the political noise in London around the negotiations on Britain’s departure is making Barnier’s job so difficult.
“We have no intention of questioning the UK’s constitutional order,” Barnier told the All-Island Civic Forum on Brexit in Dundalk. “This is none of our business.”
I have very much enjoyed my time in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the past two days. Yesterday, I attended the fourth All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dundalk and I met – and learned a lot from – a whole range of people.
I got a good sense of the issues facing businesses from across Northern Ireland. Today, I am in the beautiful city of Derry-Londonderry, where I will again meet cross-border businesses.
Ah go on Michel you’re only sayin’!
I am committed to finding such a solution that protects the Good Friday Agreement, north-south cooperation and the functioning of the all-island economy, while respecting the UK’s constitutional order. We have no choice but to protect the achievements of the past 20 years. We have no choice but to try to find a solution. And find a solution we must.
In December, we agreed with the UK that if the question of the border cannot be solved through the future EU/UK relationship, or through specific solutions, the so-called “backstop” option would apply. I am more than aware of how sensitive this issue is and how this was received by some in the UK.
But allow me to clarify a few things. We are not asking Northern Ireland to remain within the EU. We are not asking Northern Ireland to become closer to Dublin and more distant from London. Rather, we are proposing technical, practical solutions to a complex challenge created by Brexit.
That clear enough for you Arlene? No? Yes? Maybe?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London