Juncker tells MEPs the Irish border is a "European issue"

Juncker tells MEPs the Irish border is a

European Union leaders have been pressing British Prime Minister Theresa May to clarify what she wants before they agree their position on the future economic partnership at a summit later this month.

"Obviously, we need further clarity if we can reach a sense of future relations", said Jean-Claude Juncker during a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the stalemate in talks with London.

German firms would prefer a deep form of integration between Britain and the European Union after Brexit, it said.

Juncker said that it had already been agreed that there "should be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland".

Addressing the European Parliament, Juncker was cheered by Eurosceptic MEPs as he noted the UK's departure was due on March 29 2019.

"I recommend that we keep a close eye on the regulatory divergence, this dumping", he said, warning that it could become a key obstacle if Britain wants to get a smooth exit from the EU.

But he was heckled by one MEP who shouted "it is a British issue".

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During his speech, Juncker said the issue of Ireland was a European one, but was interrupted by members of the parliament saying this was only a British issue.

Any less comprehensive free-trade agreement in lieu of customs union membership would carry the risk of logistical bottlenecks and inevitably lead to an increase in the cost and bureaucratic burden associated with trade, he added.

Mr Barnier added that it was a "rather surprising idea" to think the European Union could accept convergence in some areas "and at the same time open up the possibility for divergence when there is a comparative advantage to be had" for the UK.

"It is time to face up to the hard facts", he added.

Britain's CBI industry body also endorses a customs union with the EU after Brexit, as does opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. "That can not happen", the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt told Euronews. "It's now time to translate speeches into treaties, turn commitments into agreements, and to move from the soundbite, broad suggestions and wishes on the future relationship to specific, workable solutions".

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who is still an MEP, said the United Kingdom could leave without a transition period and claimed a transatlantic trade deal could be struck "in 48 hours".