Irish border question putting Brexit talks "at risk"

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier right at a previous meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney

Barnier, on his second visit to the Border since Brexit, said this was exactly why he had come to visit both sides of the Border: to find "technical and practical solutions to assure safety controls" that protect the EU's single market and, he suggested, the UK's internal market too.

The chief negotiator has warned that until an agreement on the Irish border is reached, and if the United Kingdom does not soften its red line on the issue, "there is a risk" that talks will fail.

However, rejecting criticism, Mr Varadkar said that he normally meets "only politicians and officials" when he visits Northern Ireland and that he "wanted to use this opportunity to meet with real people and talk about their real concerns in how Brexit might impact on them". Britain and the bloc agree there must be no customs posts or other infrastructure along the now all-but-invisible 310-mile (500-kilometer) border.

The Northern Ireland border question comes as the government continues to grapple with options surrounding the customs union.

Mr Barnier was in Ireland to try to push Britain into accepting a solution where Northern Ireland joins Ireland and the EU in a customs union and effectively breaks off with the rest of the UK.

Mr Varadkar added: "I am determined to work with the British government, with the political parties in Northern Ireland, with the unionist and nationalist communities to chart a way ahead.

I just want to be a good neighbour and I received a very warm welcome in Northern Ireland", he said.

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Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, warned that Britain's "approach to negotiations will need to change in some way" if there is to be agreement over the issue.

"We need to agree rapidly by June on several new points, on the scope of alignment, customs and regulations".

This summer's meeting of European leaders in Brussels would be a "stepping stone" for the final summit in October, which is the deadline for reaching an agreement on withdrawal, he added. That is none of our business. "No more, no less".

"This is why it is necessary to have a self-standing backstop solution".

He repeated warnings that Britain leaving the single market and customs union could result in a hard border.

Mr Barnier was speaking at the start of a two-day visit to Ireland.

"Although we do have a common travel area between the United Kingdom and Irish Republic, that is no excuse for formal visits of this nature not being subjected to normal protocol arrangements. 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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