Michel Barnier to meet with small businesses on cross-border tour

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is set to visit Newry, Derry and Dungannon as part of a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland.

During the visit, Barnier will meet with stakeholders, cross-border groups and rural representatives.

Today, Barnier met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dundalk.

It comes almost exactly a month after British Prime Minister Theresa May visited a farm in Co. Down as part of a whirlwind tour in which she visited all four regions of the UK in one day.

‘Meeting people on the ground’

Speaking at the event today, Michel Barnier said he was “not here as a technocrat from Brussels” and added that he valued the importance of small businesses.

“I was elected from the region of Savoy, France. I will never forget what I learnt during that time from small businesses; farmers – the people on the ground. I have always worked with those people to make progress,” he said.

The paradox is that Brexit is not about progress and it’s not a project. There is no ‘added value’ with Brexit. Nobody has proved it so far that Brexit has ‘added value’. But we have to respect it, as the decision was taken in a democratic vote.

“I am in Dundalk this morning, in Newry this afternoon, and in Derry-Londonderry and Dungannon tomorrow.

“I have come to listen and learn from people from across this island – north, south, east and west; urban and rural; nationalist and unionist; ‘leaver’ and ‘remainer’.

“All the people are open to speak to me; I respect all opinions. I want to speak with those who work as part of the all-island economy, and to those for whom the border means today nothing more than a change from mph to kph.”

Discussions

Barnier added that without a backstop, there can be “no withdrawal agreement”.

“This is an EU issue; not only an Irish issue,” he said.

This afternoon, Barnier will head north of the border to InterTrade Ireland, Newry for a discussion with business stakeholders and cross-border groups and companies.

During the two-day visit, Barnier will also meet the chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan; and chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby. He will also hear how Brexit will affect young people on the island.