The European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator has said he recognises the special nature of relations between Ireland and the UK and that a 'hard Brexit' would be a "disaster".

Speaking to RTÉ News at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Guy Verhofstadt said he "absolutely" recognises the "special relationship economically and politically".

"A return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would be politically a big problem and also economically a disaster," the former Belgian prime minister said.

Mr Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group in the European Parliament, said that he has already met with representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive and "it is clear that it is a specific problem that we have to manage well in these negotiations".

The MEP tasked with the role of chief negotiator on behalf of the EU added: "The worst mistake that can happen is that we return in history and that we return to violence because of this."

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Meanwhile, a British Labour MP has said it is essential that any Brexit deal upholds and respects the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Hilary Benn said "it is essential that what the Good Friday Agreement has achieved is acknowledged and respected and upheld in that deal by Europe".

"It does need special attention because there are very particular issues and nobody wants to see a return to a hard border because that would not be in anybody's interests at all," he added.

He also said it is his personal view that an open land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should be kept and the common travel arrangement should remain.

Mr Benn said he hopes the UK will stay in the customs union to help minimise the impact of Brexit.

He added that it is essential that EU member state recognise the special relationship between the UK and Ireland.