Brexit: Theresa May to visit the Irish border for first time since EU referendum

She has been criticised for not hearing first-hand how Brexit will impact on locals

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 18 July 2018 11:28 BST
Prime Minister Theresa May will go to the Irish border this week
Prime Minister Theresa May will go to the Irish border this week (AFP/Getty Images)

The Prime Minister will visit the Irish border for the first time since the Brexit referendum, insisting that her plan for EU withdrawal will not destroy people’s livelihoods there.

Theresa May had been criticised for not hearing first-hand from locals how Brexit will impact on people living near the UK’s only land border with the European Union.

She has committed to ensuring there is no hard border with Ireland with no infrastructure, but it is yet to become clear how she can achieve this without being part of a customs union with the EU, something she is ruling out.

Her trip also comes at a critical moment for politics in Northern Ireland, with politicians there still yet to restore a power sharing agreement at the Stormont Assembly after a year and a half.

On Wednesday Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley said she is prepared to legislate to allow vital public appointments if there is no executive in place by the autumn.

It will be on Thursday that the prime minister travels over to meet business representatives who operate around the 310-mile frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The following day she will deliver a speech in Belfast focusing on how her vision of Brexit, outlined in last week’s government white paper, will impact Northern Ireland and the border.

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She said: “I fully recognise how their livelihoods, families and friends rely on the ability to move freely across the border to trade, live and work on a daily basis.

“That’s why we have ruled out any kind of hard border. Daily journeys will continue to be seamless and there will be no checks or infrastructure at the border to get in the way of this.

“I’ve also been clear we will not accept the imposition of any border down the Irish Sea and we will preserve the integrity of the UK’s internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”

The border remains a crucial sticking point in Brexit negotiations with the EU, amid a dispute on how to maintain free flow of goods in and out of the UK.

While Ms May has promised no hard border, the EU has indicated this is only possible if either Northern Ireland or the whole UK remains within a customs union.

The prime minister has ruled this out and has instead proposed a “facilitated customs arrangement” but early indications from Brussels are that it does not vies the proposal favourably.

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Ms May will also meet the region’s political parties on the two-day trip, at a time when Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved government for 18 months due to a bitter fallout between the two biggest parties – Sinn Fein and the Conservatives’ “confidence and supply” partners at Westminster, the Democratic Unionists.

Ms May added: “From the start of the negotiations, the UK government has put Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances at the heart of our negotiations. And nothing will undermine our commitment to protecting the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement.

“I also look forward to meeting political parties on working together to restore stable and effective devolved government for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.”

In a statement today Ms Bradley made clear she would take “important action” to ensure public appointments can be made in Northern Ireland in the continued absence of an executive at Stormont.

Ms Bradley said: “I have been clear that I will continue to take any urgent and necessary action to protect good governance and the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

“I hope that an accommodation can be reached and an Executive formed so that Northern Ireland Ministers can make these important appointments in the autumn.

“If not, I am prepared to bring forward legislation to enable these appointments to be made to ensure that these bodies can continue their vital work.”

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