THE EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier has revealed the time he dedicated to understanding the people of Ireland as he conducted Brexit negotiations to strike the right trade deal for the EU and UK once the latter had exited the union.
Speaking at an online ceremony, hosted in Dublin, where Mr Barnier was virtually presented with the European Movement Ireland organisation’s European of the Year Award, he explained: “My team and I were particularly attentive to the concerns voiced by all the different parties and communities of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“We travelled several times to Ireland and Northern Ireland, we went to the border, we walked on the peace bridge in Derry/Londonderry.
“Above all, we listened and engaged with students, workers, business owners and rural communities. Because Brexit is first and foremost about people…The memories of the Troubles never far away.”
Mr Barnier, who admitted he was “honoured” to receive his award - which recognises individuals and organisations that have developed connections between Ireland and Europe, went on to state that Brexit had made the remaining EU states “stronger”.
“I continue to believe that we have to be both patriotic and European – patriote et européen – Irish and European, French and European,” he said.
“The two go together,” he added, “that is why preserving EU unity was so important throughout the Brexit process. And we succeeded, together.”
He explained: “The unity and solidarity between member states was visible at every step of our negotiations with the UK.
“Contrary to what many predicted at the time of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Brexit did not trigger the end of the European Union, but the strengthening of its unity.
“Together, we can build a Europe that not only protects but also inspires.
“A Europe that continues to make us stronger together. Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity.”
Paying tribute to Mr Barnier, European Movement Ireland Chair, Maurice Pratt said: “Over a long and difficult period, Michel Barnier sought to protect and advance European interests and values while also working to maintain a close and productive relationship with the United Kingdom.
“The agreement which has been reached is positive. While issues remain, it has provided clarity to businesses and citizens.
“Also, and importantly, this agreement can be built upon, with a view to ensuring the EU and the UK have an ongoing, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship in the future.”
He added: “Ireland, as a proud EU member state, with the closest relationship to the UK, has a role to play as a future facilitator in that process.”