Brexit: Leaders in Northern Ireland welcome trade deal

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Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland’s leaders have welcomed the reaching of a trade deal between the UK and EU ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the Stormont Executive has been united in supporting the need for a trade deal.

“This is the start of a new era in the relationship between the UK and the EU and in Northern Ireland we will want to maximise the opportunities the new arrangements provide for our local economy,” she said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Executive as a whole will examine the detail of the deal.

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“While we have distinctly different political positions on leaving the EU, we are all agreed that it’s in no-one interests to leave without a deal, therefore this announcement is good news which will be welcomed across the whole island,” she said.

“As an Executive we will now need to consider the detail of the agreement because there will be many questions on what the agreement means for businesses and citizens and it is important they get that clarity.”

In a personal statement sent separately, Ms Foster said details of both the trade deal, as well as other issues including security will be examined.

“Given the Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol, a sensible trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union was always the most favourable outcome for Northern Ireland,” she said.

“Moving forward, we will continue to work to seize the opportunities and address the challenges which arise from the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.”

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However Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said there is “no cause for celebration”.

“We have achieved a ‘least worst option’ for UK as a whole – for Northern Ireland we now have an Irish Sea Border with reams of non-tariff barriers being installed from 1st Jan. Nothing historic about it,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the deal “will not undo the enormous damage caused by Brexit to people, businesses and communities in Northern Ireland”.

“This entire Brexit fantasy is a future that people here do not want and did not vote for,” he said.

“A deal is better than no-deal, but the best deal will always remain being at the heart of the European Union.

“That is what our people voted for in 2016, we all deserve a future that is no longer limited to the least worst option.”

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