Theresa May insists there will be no hard border after Brexit
British PM is visiting Fermanagh following invite from DUP’s Arlene Foster; Sinn Féin brands trip ‘too little, too late’
British prime minister Theresa May (left) and Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) during a visit to Belleek pottery factory on the northern side of the border between Enniskillen in Northern Ireland and Ballyshannon in Donegal. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA Wire
British prime minister Theresa May insisted her facilitated customs arrangement plan will ensure a free-flowing Irish Border after Brexit when she visited Co Fermanagh on Thursday.
It was her first visit to the Border since the Brexit referendum took place.
“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 are going to 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.”
Mrs May said her visit to the Belleek pottery factory in Co Fermanagh had given her an opportunity to hear about people’s “day to day experience and what having no hard border means to their businesses”.
In an interview with PA, she added: “One of the things that was underpinning the work we did on the White Paper was the need to ensure that we not just had no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and also that we had no border down the Irish Sea.”
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster welcomed her to the famous landmark, which sits close to the almost invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Mrs Foster, whose 10 MPs prop up Mrs May’s minority government at Westminster, had extended an invite to Mrs May to visit her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.
Mrs May 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.
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 between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Brexiteer Mrs Foster insisted Mrs May would come away hearing of the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit. “This visit will enable Mrs May to speak with people who live, work and travel across the much talked about Irish border on a daily basis,” said Mrs Foster.
“She will hear first-hand examples of how people see both challenges and opportunities for their sectors as we leave the European Union. “For our part, 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 Fein 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 Northern Ireland and the Border.
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.