EU Council: hurry up and prepare for a hard Brexit

Jean-Claude Juncker's visit comes ahead of next week's key European Council meeting.

"I am strongly against any temptation to isolate Ireland and not to conclude the deal on Ireland".

The EU has proposed that Northern Ireland stay aligned with the bloc after Brexit if no other solution to the hard border can be found - but London says this would break up the UK.

The European Commission President was handed a Cork shirt with the number 27 in acknowledgement of his role representing the EU27 members.

Tomorrow he will meet Irish President Michael D Higgins and visit the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Croke Park, and the GAA museum.

The European Commission president addressed the Oireachtas this afternoon, and received applause when he said the Irish border is also Europe's border.

Responding to Mr Juncker's remarks, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he has secured a place in history amid the Brexit "riddle". "It remains our intention to achieve a close economic partnership that does not require the backstop to be in operation".

"If Mr Juncker was really focused on helping Ireland, he would be encouraging the European Union to focus on getting a post-Brexit trade deal in place".

Following the meetings, Juncker made it clear that a resolution to the border issue was crucial to the withdrawal treaty.

Theresa May formally invoked Article 50 in March 2017, marking the start of the two-year countdown to the UK's departure from the European Union and paving the way for the start of negotiations on the terms of British withdrawal.

"It's a point that has also been reinforced by Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief negotiator for Article 50 negotiations", said McGuinness.

"The most important aspect of the withdrawal agreement for us is the backstop, and Prime Minister May committed in March that there would be a backstop and outlined in December what that backstop would contain".

Jean Claude Juncker was speaking following meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings on Thursday.

Showing full solidarity with Ireland, Juncker said the border issue was not a question between Ireland and the United Kingdom but an issue between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Now we're seeing the consequences of kicking every tough decision into the long grass.

"The aim should be a "Norway plus" model on the basis that the red lines set out by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017 are not consistent with the national interest".

"That means businesses up and down the country will be left in the lurch right up until the last minute, while those in Ireland wait to find out whether this government wants to safeguard their fragile peace settlement".

  • Jon Douglas