On Monday Michel Barnier met with the participants at the All Island Civic Forum at DkIT. This was the 4th session since the first in November 2016. He received a very warm reception.
He spelt out clearly that he had hoped that BREXIT would not happen. However now that it had his responsibility was to the EU and its member States who remained. He also wished to have close ties with the UK and that in no way was it his or the EU intention to punish the UK for leaving. He was determined that a solution to the Irish border would remain one of his three key objectives, the others being the settlement figure and the third being new relations with the UK.
Paddy Malone was the Chamber representative at a meeting with Mr Barnier at InterTrade office in Newry on Monday afternoon. All other persons at the meeting were from Northern Ireland. Mr Barnier again reiterated the EU position on negotiations. He made it clear that the back stop would mean Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market.
All participants, who covered Services including hospitality and consulting to goods and transport organisations stressed that their preference was to remain in the Single Market.
They raised concerns about EU citizens’ right to remain or bring their families to Northern Ireland. They raised concern over access to Erasmus and Science funding. The companies stressed that they were heavily involved in exporting both to the Republic and other member States. They also raised the issue of Interreg and Peace IV funding.
Mr Barnier made it clear that he understood the position of those businesses and sympathised with them. However he made it very clear that his role was to protect the EU structures and institutions. It was up to the UK Government to protect their citizens’ future. Therefore the concerns expressed by the companies and organisations should be expressed to the UK Government and local politicians.
Paddy Malone raised the issue of access / delay time for both commuters and hauliers crossing the border or travelling via Britain to the continent. He also expressed concern over the position for DKIT both in respect of research funding and student access from Northern Ireland. He also raised the issue of tourism access and visa.
Mr Barnier again reiterated the point that it was not the EU intention to punish the UK. However it was up to the UK to propose a viable alternative to the Backstop. He also believed that all parties would honour commitments to Interreg and Peace IV beyond the current timescale. (Mr Lidington, the British Minister Paddy met last week had made the same point in respect of Interreg and Peace IV).
At the end of the meeting Paddy gain expressed the Chamber’s thanks for the manner in which our members’ interests and that of the Border communities were being protected by the EU.