The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator has offered Northern Ireland the possibility of retaining elements European Union (EU) membership after Brexit.
The plan could include “linkage” to the protectionist Common Agricultural Policy, remaining in the Erasmus University exchange scheme, and continued science funding through the Horizon 2020 scheme, a senior Irish TD [MP] told The Telegraph.
Stephen Donnelly, the Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesman, said Michel Barnier (pictured, right) told him it was “absolutely” a possibility Ireland would be offered sector-by-sector access to the bloc.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured, left) has previously insisted the UK cannot “pick and chose” to retain elements of the EU when it leaves, as benefits are restricted to members.
Northern Ireland voted by 56 per cent to 44 per cent to remain in the EU, and there are increasing demands for it to have some special status in the bloc after Brexit.
On Wednesday, the British government proposed keeping Ireland’s border with the UK open after Brexit, maintaining Free Movement and minimising customs checks.
“I discussed Northern Ireland with Michel Barnier, and I put to him that, whilst accepting Northern Ireland is in the jurisdiction of the crown, there is an argument to try and maintain linkages between Northern Ireland and the EU on a sector-by-sector basis,” said Mr. Donnelly.
“I put this to Barnier and he said, sure, that conversation should be had. So, as a really simple example, [I asked] could Queen’s University of Belfast stay in the Erasmus programme? And the answer from Barnier was ‘yes, why not have that negotiated’?”
“It’s a minor thing but it’s important because you’re getting language skills, cultural connections, future business and political connections,” said Mr. Donnelly.
He said he then asked whether Northern Ireland might also be able to keep EU funding in other areas, such as scientific research.
“I said OK, what about Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and development programme, most of the research going on through British universities is funded through Horizon 2020, is there a case for keeping Northern Irish universities in Horizon 2020?
“Barnier said, you know, complicated, but absolutely we should have that conversation.”
Mr. Donnelly said he then asked: “Is there any situation in which a linkage could be kept to Common Agricultural Policy?”
He said Mr. Barnier replied: “[That is] difficult, but absolutely that should be on the table.”