The UK Prime Minister says there will be no return to a hard border

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged the EU to 'evolve its position' on the Irish border during the second day of her trip to Northern Ireland.

During a speech in Belfast this morning, she again insisted that there will be no return to a hard border in Ireland - but warned that she will not accept any solution that treats the North differently to Britain. 

"In the Northern Ireland of today, where a seamless border enables unprecedented levels of trade and co-operation North and South, any form of infrastructure at the border is an alien concept," she said.

"The seamless border is a foundation stone on which the Belfast Agreement rests, allowing for the just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.

"Anything that undermines that is a breach of the spirit of the Belfast Agreement - an agreement that we have committed to protect in all its parts and the EU says it will respect."

The chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday warned once again that it is a "matter of urgency" that both sides agree on a "legally operable" backstop that removes the threat of a hard border - no matter the outcome of the talks.

"We need an all-weather insurance policy," he said.

The EU has consistently warned that there will be no Withdrawal Treaty with the UK, unless a legally binding backstop is in place.

The backstop arrangement proposed by the EU would see a “common regulatory area” established in the North which would follow EU customs and regulations - unless and until a new trade arrangement is in place.

This morning however, Mrs May insisted she would not accept any solution that would see the North treated differently to Britain.

"As Prime Minister for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland it is my duty to serve the whole UK and to govern in the interest of every part of it.

"That defines the approach I have taken in Government over the past two years.

"As we leave the EU I have made protecting and strengthening our own precious union - by making sure the deal we strike works for every part of the UK - an absolute priority." 

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney is in Brussels this morning for a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council.

He met with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier this morning and, ahead of Mrs May speech, he warned the backstop proposal does not threaten the Good Friday Agreement - but Brexit does.

He noted that the EU "will always defend the Good Friday Agreement."