BRUSSELS Ė The European Unionís proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union in order to ensure a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland is the best plan offered so far, the president of the European Council said Thursday.
Donald Tusk spoke at a Brussels event organized by lobby group BusinessEurope a day after the EUís chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier unveiled a draft paper that suggested Northern Ireland could retain regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland as a soft and tariff-free border, although the proposal ruffled feathers among pro-Brexit politicians and was dismissed by Prime Minister Theresa May.
ďOne of the possible negative consequences of this kind of Brexit is a hard border on the island of Ireland. The EU wants to prevent this scenario,Ē Tusk said. ďHence, if no other solution is found, the proposal is to establish a common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland.Ē
ďAnd, until now, no-one has come up with anything wiser than that,Ē he added.
Tusk was due to meet with May later in the day and said he would ask if London had any better ideas than the one proposed by Brussels.
The future of the border between the Irish Republic, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, a UK territory, had been a sticking point in the Brexit negotiations and is a sensitive issue for Belfast.
Its status as an open frontier was enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that helped put an end to decades of sectarian violence in the region between nationalists, who identified as Irish, and unionists, who identified as British.
During a weekly prime ministerís questions session on Wednesday, May dismissed the EUís proposal to maintain Northern Ireland in the customs union as a bid to break up the constitutional integrity of the UK.
Her minority Conservative government is propped up in the House of Commons by the Democratic Unionist Party, a hardline unionist grouping from Northern Ireland, which saw Barnierís comments as a bid to alienate Belfast from London.