PM wants ‘practical’ EU border for Northern Ireland

Prime Minister Theresa May with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle in Belfast
Prime Minister Theresa May with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle in Belfast
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FINDING a solution to Northern Ireland’s eventual border with the EU following Brexit will be at the heart of talks between the Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny this morning.

Mr Kenny will meet with Theresa May in Downing Street to talk through options for the 499km long land border between his country and Britain with both heads of state intimating they do not want a return to the hard-border of the past.

Road-blocks and check points between the UK and Ireland became a familiar site during The Troubles, only removed following the Good Friday agreement in 1998, and the pre-existing common travel agreement reinstated.

The Taoiseach will say today that he does not want to see a hard internal border on the island to mark out where the EU begins and ends, reiterating comments he made in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.

Talks with the Republic follow Mrs May’s visit to Northern Ireland on Monday to meet with the First Minister Arlene Foster.

Mrs May said she wanted a “practical solution” for everybody on the island when asked about comments she made during the referendum campaign that a border change was an inevitable consequence of Brexit.

She said: “Well if you look ahead, what is going to happen, when the UK leaves the European Union is that of course, here Northern Ireland will have a border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain a member of the EU.

“But we’d had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years before either country was a member of the EU.

“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past - what we do want to do is to find a way through this that is going to work and deliver a practical solution for everybody, as part of the work we’re doing to ensure that we make a success of the UK leaving the EU and that we come out of this with a deal in the interest of the whole of the UK.”

Mrs May’s visit to Northern Ireland follows meetings with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones.

She said she wants to work with all the devolved nations to ensure they are happy before Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered, thus kick-starting Britain’s formal exit from the EU.

During her meeting with Arlene Foster, of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who is in favour of remaining in the EU, Mrs May said the British Government would maintain its commitment to political agreements that pledge to support economic growth and put a stop to paramilitary activity in the region.

She said: “I stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and said that my Government will be a Government for the whole of the UK and Northern Ireland is a valued part and I’m very clear that the Government will deliver on the Stormont House agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement.

“We’ve had very constructive talks - positive talks - this morning with the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. We concentrated on the impact of the referendum vote, Brexit means Brexit but we will be making a success of it. I’m clear that the Northern Ireland Executive and the devolved governments will be involved in our discussions as we set forward the UK position.

“I recognise the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland because of course it has a land border with a country that will be remaining in the EU. We’ve had constructive talks about the will that we all have to find a way through this in the best interest of Northern Ireland and the best interest of the UK as a whole.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Mrs May does not want to return to the “controls of the past”.

In Northern Ireland 56% voted to remain despite the UK-wide result to leave. This has sparked a renewed debate on a potential referendum on Irish reunification with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.