September 7, 2018 / 1:46 PM / 15 days ago

EU's Barnier says ready for new Irish border solutions as Brexit deadline looms

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said in evidence published on Friday that he was willing to consider new ways to solve the Irish border issue, the toughest of remaining issues in Britain’s exit negotiation.

FILE PHOTO: European Union's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier attends a media briefing with Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab, after a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29, yet little is clear: There is, so far, no full exit deal, rivals to Prime Minister Theresa May are circling and some lawmakers are pushing for a rerun of the 2016 referendum.

Barnier told British lawmakers that he did not agree with May’s Chequers proposals on economic and trade policy which he said appeared to be suggesting Britain wanted a “kind of à la carte single market, a kind of cherrypicking approach”.

The 67-year-old Frenchman also said he was very concerned about the Irish border issue but that the EU was open to discussing different - possibly dispersed and new technological - ways of checking goods crossing the UK-Irish border.

“We are ready to simplify these checks, to have them carried out at a number of different places and have checks, thanks to technical means, which could take different forms,” said, according to a transcript released by the British parliament

“They could be dispersed. They could take place in different places, on board vessels, in ports outside Ireland, they could be done using technological means, they could be dispersed, as I said, or simplified in technological terms.”

Sterling rose to a one-week high at $1.3029 after Barnier’s testimony was reported while against the euro it touched a three-week high. The euro slipped as low as 0.8915 pence.

On Tuesday, a leading EU lawmaker said the bloc could offer new guarantees to Britain to win London’s support for a solution aimed at avoiding an Irish border after Brexit.

TIME FOR DECISIONS

If the world’s fifth largest economy left the EU without a deal outlining the divorce details, financial markets would be spooked and trade flows across Europe and beyond could be disrupted.

Both the EU and Britain want to avoid a so-called hard border between UK’s Northern Ireland and the EU’s Irish Republic because such a border could undermine a 1998 peace agreement that ended decades of sectarian conflict in the north.

But it is still unclear how goods crossing between the EU and the UK in Ireland would be monitored if there is no border and if Northern Ireland, as a part of the UK, leaves both the customs union and the single market.

Barnier repeated that 80 percent of the withdrawal deal was done but that negotiators might need a few extra days beyond the Oct. 18-19 EU Council meeting to get a deal.

“Where we are now, to be frank, it is not extra time that we need; it is extra decisions,” Barnier said.

He also told the British lawmakers that if there was no deal then there would be no mini-deals done.

“If there is a no deal there is no more discussion. There is no more negotiation. It is over and each side will take its own unilateral contingency measures, and we will take them in such areas as aviation, but this does not mean mini-deals in the case of a no deal,” he said.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by James Davey and Alison Williams

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