Theresa May: Brexit plan will ensure no hard border

The British Prime Minister has moved to assure people living on the Irish border that her plan for Brexit will ensure no hardening of the frontier.

Theresa May made the comments during her first visit to the border since the Brexit referendum.

“We’ve produced a proposal which would enable us to have a free trade area between the UK and the EU and a customs arrangement that would mean people here would continue to be able to trade seamlessly across the border and there will be no hard border, that’s what we want to see,” Mrs May told the Press Association.

Mrs May toured the Belleek Pottery factory in Co Fermanagh, meeting workers and business representatives from both sides of the border.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster welcomed her to the landmark, which sits close to the almost invisible frontier between North and South.

Mrs Foster, whose 10 MPs prop up the UK Prime Minister’s minority government at Westminster, had extended an invite to Mrs May to visit her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency on what will be a two-day schedule of events in Northern Ireland.

The British PM had previously faced criticism for failing to hear first-hand from locals living and working near what is to become the UK’s only land border with the European Union.

Members of the PSNI and the Gardai stand exactly on the border in Belleek, Bleak County Fermanagh, ahead of Prime Minster Theresa May’s visit (Niall Carson/PA)

“I’ve been hearing and talking to people about the impact on Northern Ireland previously, I wanted to be here today as one of the things underpinning the work that we did on the White Paper was the need to ensure that we not just had no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland but also no border down the Irish Sea,” she told the Press Association.

“It’s important that Northern Ireland as part of the UK can trade within our own internal market in the UK, so we have put forward a proposal that would deal with that issue and would deliver no hard border.”

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 310-mile frontier.

When asked about former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s comments that “Brexit could still be saved”, Mrs May insisted her facilitated customs arrangement plan would deliver Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May met the DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Belleek pottery factory (Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA)

“We are going to deliver Brexit and the proposal I put forward delivers Brexit,” she said.

“It delivers on the vote that people took across the UK that we should leave the European Union but it does so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods and ensures that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“And the facilitated customs arrangement is an important element of ensuring that we keep this border here one on which people can trade as seamlessly in the future as they do today.”

When asked if she was shocked by Mr Johnson’s resignation, Mrs May said: “Individuals make decisions about themselves and their futures, but as a Cabinet we came together, came to an agreement, we put forward a proposal for European Union, that meets the vote of the British people and protects livelihoods.”

Brexiteer Mrs Foster insisted Mrs May would come away hearing of the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit.

“We want to see a sensible exit from the European Union which works for Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and our nearest neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.

“That must mean that our national Parliament takes back control of our laws, borders and money and that there are no new internal barriers created inside the United Kingdom.”

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill branded the visit “too little, too late”.

“She is coming two years after the referendum, she is coming two years after negotiating with her own party,” she said.

“I am quite clear what she will hear today; she’ll hear about the catastrophic implications of Brexit, the fear and trepidation of the business community in terms of what comes next for them.

“We can’t withstand being outside the customs union and the single market.

“Theresa May needs to realise that we will not be collateral damage her for own reckless Tory agenda.”

On Friday, Mrs May will deliver a speech in Belfast focusing on how her vision of Brexit, outlined in last week’s Government White Paper, will impact on Northern Ireland and the border.

Mrs May will also hold talks with the region’s political parties on the two-day trip.

Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved government for 18 months due to a bitter fallout between the two biggest parties – Sinn Féin and the DUP, who are the Conservative Party’s confidence and supply partners at Westminster.

- Press Association

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