Theresa May to visit Irish border as Brexit concerns continue

Mrs May will meet business representatives on the Northern Ireland side of the border on Thursday afternoon.

The Irish border near Newry, Co Down (David Young/PA)
The Irish border near Newry, Co Down (David Young/PA)

Britain’s Prime Minister will later make her first visit to the border since the Brexit referendum.

Theresa May has been criticised for not hearing first-hand the concerns of locals living and working near what is to become the UK’s only land border with the European Union.

The border remains a crucial sticking point in Brexit negotiations with the EU, amid a stand-off between the UK and Brussels on how to maintain free flow of movement across the near 500km (310-mile) frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mrs May will meet business representatives on the Northern Ireland side of the border on Thursday afternoon.

On Friday, 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.

Ahead of her arrival, Mrs May said: “I look forward to hearing views from businesses on the border in Northern Ireland on our departure from the European Union.

“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.”

Mrs May will also hold talks with the region’s political parties on the two-day trip, with separate bilateral meetings scheduled across both days.

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.

The British Prime Minister will meet the SDLP on Thursday evening. Party deputy leader Nichola Mallon said Mrs May had to respect the rights of the majority (56%) who voted Remain in Northern Ireland.

Ms Mallon said a free flowing border could only be maintained if Northern Ireland remained in the single market and customs union – options Mrs May has ruled out.

“The SDLP’s message to the British Prime Minister will be as direct as it is clear – fully respect the rights of the majority of the people in the North who voted to remain and ensure that we remain in the customs union and single market, and stand up to and reject the reckless attempts by the hard Brexiteers of the Tory party and the DUP to undermine and destroy the Good Friday Agreement,” said Ms Mallon.

In further comments ahead of her visit, Mrs 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.”

Press Association

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