Brexit will not lead to a hard Irish Border, David Davis says

British secretary for exiting the EU makes his first visit to Stormont in his new role

British secretary of state for exiting the EU David Davis speaks to members of the media at Stormont House in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

British secretary of state for exiting the EU David Davis speaks to members of the media at Stormont House in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

 

The British government’s Brexit secretary has said he does not believe there will be a hard Border in Ireland after the UK’s departure from the EU.

Secretary of state for exiting the EU David Davis made the comment on Thursday during his first visit to Stormont House in his new role.

Mr Davis spoke to reporters after talks with DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and DUP Minister for the Economy Simon Hamilton, as well as the inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Advisory Group, set up by secretary of state for the North James Brokenshire.

The four core members of the group, which will attend quarterly meetings with Mr Brokenshire, are the Confederation of British Industry, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors (NI).

Mr Davis told reporters that Brexit will lead to “big opportunities” for Northern Ireland business and said the British government will take “looking after the regions and nations seriously” in its negotiations with the EU.

He also said the UK and Republic both wanted to maintain an open Border on the island and the Common Travel Area.

The minister responsible for negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU said he was “100 per cent” in agreement with British prime minister Theresa May, who spoke on Wednesday of wanting to control immigration and preserve good trade arrangements.

Tariff-free access

He also said the UK was ideally seeking tariff-free access to the EU.

“With respect to access to the single market, what we will seek to do is ideally have a tariff-free access, but this is a matter of negotiation,” he said.

“We will be negotiating over an issue I suspect is in the interest of other members of the EU . . . to get a good trading relationship in the long-run.”

Mr Brokenshire said that “we will get the best possible deal for Northern Ireland” in the Brexit talks and dismissed suggestions he was out of step with the majority of people in the North, who voted to remain in the EU in the UK referendum on membership of the bloc.

“The public of the UK gave a very clear vote,” he said, referring to the UK’s overall vote to leave the EU.

“We now need to move on and get the best possible deal for the UK [and] for Northern Ireland.”

He also promised to be a “strong voice” for Northern Ireland in Whitehall.

Stephen McCully, from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said he had highlighted the “importance of all-island trade” to the organisation’s members and said he looked forward to future discussions on this matter.

David Davis also met with Sinn Féin Minister for Finance Máirtin Ó Muilleoír, who is standing in for Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness while he is on leave.

Mr Ó Muilleoír said he restated Sinn Féin’s position that the vote of the people of the North against Brexit must be respected.

“I met today with David Davis and James Brokenshire to discuss the impact of the recent EU referendum and made clear to him the fact that the majority of people in the North . . . voted to remain in the EU.

“The economic, cultural and social damage an EU border - whether hard or soft - would have on the island of Ireland would be huge. And it would be most keenly felt in Border areas.

“Both the British and Irish governments must explore ways in which the North can remain as part of the EU if and when Britain decides to exit.”