EU's chief Brexit negotiator calls for agreement on Irish border

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on two-day visit to Ireland

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on two-day visit to Ireland

So far, the only solution on the negotiating table is the backstop, the default position that will effectively keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and parts of the single market.

The DUP and leading Tories have branded the land grab "unacceptable" while Theresa May has said no British Prime Minister would ever agree to it.

But Mr Varadkar said he followed standard protocol by informing the Northern Ireland Office of his visit, which included engagements at Warrenpoint Harbour and an integrated school in Loughbrickland.

"Visiting Northern Ireland regularly is a priority for the taoiseach". He said during the visit he saw some checks and controls were still visible on the border waiting to be dismantled.

However the taoiseach's press office said: "As is standard protocol, the Northern Ireland Office was informed".

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"Mrs Foster and some others need to understand that and respect that", Barnier told a press conference with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Barnier said the European Union was "absolutely united" on the Irish question but wants to work with the find a practical solution.

Barnier said the United Kingdom and EU negotiators must make rapid progress on the border issue by a June EU leaders meeting that will be a "stepping stone" towards attempting to reach a final Brexit deal in October.

"We need to agree rapidly by June on several new points, on the scope of alignment, customs and regulations". Still, he's confident an agreement can be reached with a "constructive attitude" on each side, and said June was a "stepping stone" to reaching a final deal. That is none of our business.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the visit shows that "the pattern of seeking to lord it over us is clear". "No more, no less".

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"The backstop is not there to challenge the UK's redlines". It is there because of the UK's red lines.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin spoke about the "massive contradiction at the heart of the United Kingdom government's negotiating position" - how to leave a single market and customs union and avoid creating a hard border.

"This is why it is necessary to have a self-standing backstop solution". "Together with the Irish government we are looking for practical solutions".

Both Mr Varadkar and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney are still doing this, the DUP MP said, "and then today he waltzes into Northern Ireland as if he owned the place". "We have red lines, so does the European Union, but nobody seems to focus on that", said Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney.

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