MICHEL Barnier has accused the British Government of using Ireland’s border with the North as a “test case” for its post-Brexit future.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said Prime Minister Theresa May’s recently position paper on Northern Ireland and the Republic “worries” him.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels after the publication of the EU’s ‘Guiding Principles on the Dialogue for Ireland/Northern Ireland’, Mr Barnier was sharply critical of Britain’s official stance on the Irish border.
"The UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen," Mr Barnier said.
"Creativity and flexibility cannot be at the expense of the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union. This will not be fair for Ireland, and it would not be fair for the European Union."
He warned that the EU was not prepared to allow the unique border arrangements which will be agreed for Ireland to become a model for Britain’s broader Brexit deal.
Mr Barnier added: “What I see in the UK’s paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me.
"Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland must continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens.”
The EU chief’s criticism comes just a day after Theresa May’s government ruled out ‘joint authority’ with Ireland in the North following Brexit.
Responding to comments on Tuesday from Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, about the possibility of joint rule, the British Government clarified there would be no such arrangement as an alternative to devolution.
In a statement a spokesperson said in the absence of devolution “it is ultimately for the United Kingdom’s Government to provide the certainty over delivery of public services and good governance in Northern Ireland”.
"The UK Government, along with the Irish government, is engaging intensively with the Northern Ireland parties to secure the reestablishment of inclusive, devolved government at Stormont, and the operation of all the institutions established under the Belfast Agreement.
"We will never countenance any arrangement, such as Joint Authority, inconsistent with the principle of consent in the Agreement."
The clarification appeared to be a direct riposte to Simon Coveney’s earlier comment that “there can be no British-only direct rule – that is the Irish Government’s position.”