President Sergio Mattarella said the EU stands with the Republic of Ireland amid growing concerns about the post-Brexit future of the Irish border.
The British and Irish governments have not yet agreed on a sustainable way to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic if the UK presses ahead with plans to quit the single market and customs union.
Speaking last week, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said a hard Irish border was “inevitable” if Britain does not maintain the same trade relations with Ireland, which would effectively leave the UK in a ‘Brexit in name only’ scenario.
While the stalemate continues, the Italian president travelled to Dublin and reassured his Irish counterparts that the EU remains behind Ireland as Brexit talks progress.
He said: “This is not an Irish problem but a problem of Europe, because peace in Northern Ireland has been a European success.
“Saying no to the reconstruction of the border is an indispensable point in the negotiations between the EU and London on Brexit.
“We will not step back.”
Theresa May shares the EU’s desire not to implement border checks in Ireland but the British Government has not yet offered a solution to the issue.
Ireland is pushing for a settled “legal text” over the border question as early as next month in a move which could unravel the delicate diplomatic agreement that was orchestrated in December following three days of intense talks between London, Dublin and Brussels.
In that agreement, the UK maintained it would keep Northern Ireland in “full alignment” with Europe’s single market – but only as a last resort, if other solutions to the problem could not be found.
British negotiators argue that the combination of Northern Ireland’s devolved decision-making processes and some technical customs arrangements could help the two countries avoid a hard border.
A senior Irish government official told the Telegraph: “Like the UK, we have consistently said that it is our preference to resolve these issues through the wider future relationship agreement between the EU and the UK.
“However, in case this is not possible, we must at the same time ensure legal certainty in the withdrawal agreement that reflects the commitments made by the UK in phase one of the negotiations.”
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)