Ireland's interests will be 'taken on board' in Brexit negotiations - Verhofstadt

The European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator has said he does not believe there will be sufficient progress to go into the second phase of Brexit negotiations by the end of October.

Speaking on RTÉ Six One News, Guy Verhofstadt said it would be a shame if we tried to solve the problems of Brexit by restoring a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic - writes rte.ie.

He said it had been agreed that the interests of Ireland would be taken on board in the negotiating mandate of the European Union and this meant that the Irish position is the European position and the European position is the Irish position.

He said everyone in the European Union is very much aware of the necessity to defend the interests of Ireland.

The European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator has said he does not believe there will be sufficient progress to go into the second phase of Brexit negotiations by the end of October.

Speaking on RTÉ Six One News, Guy Verhofstadt said it would be a shame if we tried to solve the problems of Brexit by restoring a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

He said it had been agreed that the interests of Ireland would be taken on board in the negotiating mandate of the European Union and this meant that the Irish position is the European position and the European position is the Irish position.

He said everyone in the European Union is very much aware of the necessity to defend the interests of Ireland.

Addressing a joint sitting of the Oireachtas Committees on European Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Guy Verhofstadt said he wanted to deliver a message of solidarity with the Irish people.

"What we will never allow is that Ireland will suffer from the British decision to leave the EU," he said.

"That is a commitment that has been made by the European parliament and by the EU as a whole."

He criticised the views of the UK's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for accusing his fellow countrymen of split allegiance because they want to retain a European identity.

He said the vision set out in the Good Friday Agreement needs to be defended by the European Union.

He also said the EU must also ensure that there is no return to the past, and to hard borders on our continent "and certainly not to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic," he added.

He said the European Parliament had made this very clear.

Mr Verhofstadt added thatthe Northern Ireland border was not a natural one, it was not a river, or a mountain range, and was an illogical divide which should remain invisible as it is today.

He said the solution regarding Brexit has to come from the UK.

He said the re-emergence of a border was an inevitable consequence of the choice of Britain to leave the EU and therefore it was for the UK to come up with a workable solution which will safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, preserve the Common Travel Area, avoid a hard border, and one that does not compromise the integrity of the single market and custom union.

Mr Verhofstadt said it would require a "unique solution".

He said simply saying problems would be avoided through the use of new technology was in his opinion, not a solution.

Europe's Brexit coordinator said he spent yesterday afternoon visiting the border in Co Monaghan and pointed out that he found it impossible to see where one jurisdiction ended and where the other started.

"Certainly the cows especially couldn't see it," he said.

He said as a Belgian, surrealism comes naturally to him, but he said to reinstate a border would be more than surreal.

"It would be absurd even for me", he said.

When asked if the European Parliament would veto any deal which is not acceptable, Mr Verhofstadt saidfor the moment there is nothing to veto.

"There is no real progress in the negotiations," he said.

"Maybe the intervention of the British Prime Minister can be a breakthrough in the coming days".

"We on the parliament side don't see sufficient progress on the future relationship of the UK and the EU," he said.

He said the Parliament would never allow the Brexit negotiations to put the Good Friday Agreement in danger.

On the future of trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland he said he had heard many solutions for Northern Ireland.

They include an economic zone, and extending the single market and customs union to Northern Ireland

"They are all solutions that are possible. What is not possible is the solution put on the table by the British Government, which is a return to a border, but it is not visible.

"So we are very in favour of any solution, that avoids in any way a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic.

"The main proposal I have heard to avoid this, is that Northern Ireland could continue to participate in the single market and the customs union".

Four of Sinn Féin's seven MPs in Britain's House of Commons were in attendance in the distinguished visitors gallery in Leinster House for Mr Verhofstadt's address.

Mr Verhofstadt spent yesterdayin Belfast and the border counties where he said that ahard border would be a disaster for citizens, businesses, farmers and everyone in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the ploughing championships, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is hoping there will be some progress in British Prime Minister Theresa May's speech tomorrow in Florence.

Mr Varadkar said there is some indication we are moving towards a soft Brexit, one that minimises damage to the Irish economy.

Mr Varadkar said he is due to speak to Mrs May by phonetonight and he will meet her in London on Monday.

Asked about evidence division in the British government over Brexit, he said Mrs May speaks for the British government as far as he is concerned.

Regarding his meeting with Mr Verhofstadt earlier, he said he is reassured the European Parliament position is so much aligned with that of the government and the EU27, and they are very much speaking the same language.

He also pointed out that Ireland exports €5 billion worth of Agri-Food product to Britain every year, and the British sell us €4 billion worth of imports.

Read more news of Dublin on the city site.

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