The EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs has refused to rule out EU custom checks on Irish ports and airports after Brexit.
Pierre Moscovici says the EU doesn't want to see a return to the hard border of the past in Ireland – but admitted the bloc does need to protect its customs area.
Speaking to Newstalk’s On The Record With Chris Donoghue, he said a lot will depend on the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.
“To me, the UK tomorrow won’t be an EU country because they chose that,” he said. “You might regret that but you have to respect the will of the people.”
“But it will remain a European country. I hope that after a good negotiation; after a clean conclusion of this negotiation, we can have a privileged relationship – we will see of what nature and to what extent with the UK.”
He refused to provide a road-map regarding how a hard border could be avoided, but said the EU would “like for things to be as smooth and positive as possible.”
His comments come after British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a landmark address on Brexit in Florence on Friday.
Setting out her vision for the future partnership between the UK and the EU Mrs May insisted that neither side would ever accept any “physical infrastructure” on the Irish border.
She called for a new “ambitious economic partnership” adding that “if we can be imaginative and creative about the way we establish this new relationship ... I believe we can be optimistic about the future we can build for the United Kingdom and for the European Union."
Mr Moscovici said it is up to the UK to put forward clear proposals before his office responds to Irish customs issues.
“Madame May pronounced recently an important speech – that needs to be translated into concrete proposals and I cannot offer you a road-map,” he said.
“The only thing I can say is that we are really watching this issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and we don’t want to back-track - we don’t want to go back to the past.”
“That certainly is a position that we will defend strongly.”
During her Florence address, Mrs May also claimed that Britain "has never totally felt at home being in the European Union" – a sentiment Mr Moscovici believes had a strong influence on the outcome of the Brexit referendum.
He said voters might have returned a different result were it not for the anti-European feeling fostered in the UK over recent years.
“Having been in the UK for so long and being in politics for quite a while I was always sorry that there was no strong enthusiasm for the EU in the press and sometimes in the political class,” he said.
“I think that if the British would have been explained how good the EU was for them, campaigning against Brexit would have been easier.
“I am not blaming the media; I am not blaming the politicians but if you always say that your dog is sick, it is easier to kill him.”
The fourth round of Brexit negotiations gets underway in Brussels tomorrow September 25th.