UK not seeking an ‘off the shelf’ Brexit deal, Brokenshire says
NI secretary rules out North remaining in EU but says its ‘unique’ interests will be protected
The British government has ‘a clear, measured plan for exiting the European Union’, Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire told an Irish Times conference on Brexit in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA.
“We are not seeking an ‘off the shelf’ deal … but rather a solution that provides the best outcome for the United Kingdom, ” he told the event in Dublin on Monday.
Mr Brokenshire did not elaborate on the nature of the Brexit agreement his government would seek to negotiate. However, he emphasised London’s determination to stand by the Belfast Agreement and to protect the gains of the peace process in any future arrangements between the UK and the EU.
“The fundamentals of the Belfast Agreement remain solid. The consent principle that governs Northern Ireland’s constitutional status will continue to be paramount...Those elements of the Agreements that deal with people’s rights and identity…the right of people to be British, Irish or both … will be upheld,” he said.
However, while Mr Brokenshire said he appreciated the “shock that many here in Ireland felt on the morning” of the result, “it is no good those who dislike or are uncomfortable with the result wishing it away or believing that the UK will somehow wake up in a few months believing it has made a terrible collective mistake and demanding another vote.”
The North would proceed to leave the EU, he said.
“The United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU,” Mr Brokenshire said, “and it is the United Kingdom as a whole that will leave.
“But in that process we want to ensure that Northern Ireland’s particular and unique interests are protected and advanced.”
‘Borders of the past’
He said it was a priority of the British Government that “there must be no return to the borders of the past.”
“The open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, along with the Common Travel Area, has served our peoples well. . . And both our respective governments, along with the Northern Ireland Executive, are determined to keep it as open as possible.”
Later Mr Brokenshire told journalists that a determination to maintain the common travel area was “a shared endeavour” of the two Governments, and Dublin and London were agreed on “the arrangements that we want to see put in place” and said that the two governments would be “approaching the negotiations with that strong intent.”
In his speech Mr Brokenshire also committed the British Government to maintaining security co-operation with the Irish authorities. He is meeting the justice minister Frances Fitzgerald later this afternoon for discussions.
Earlier in an interview with the Irish Times, Mr Brokenshire said the British government’s preparation for Brexit in relation to Northern Ireland was “focussed on things like the common travel area on the issue of the border, not wanting to see a return to the hard borders of the past but also some really important issues that relate to the economy on the island of Ireland, things like the single electricity market.”
“Now there are clearly unique factors that are relevant here and what we are doing as a government is looking very closely at each of them, working with the NI executive, yes obviously discussing with the Irish government too.”
While he declined to outline if the British government would seek a special deal for the North, he said it was “obviously being very conscious of our commitments under the Belfast Agreement and subsequent agreements which we certainly are not going to unsettle.”
He pointed out that the Common Travel Area was already recognised and protected in the Treaty of Amsterdam - “giving it that EU grounding already”.
Border and common travel issues, he said were “very much at the heart of our approach . . . recognising those specific circumstances” in the British government’s preparations.
Mr Brokenshire played down divisions on Brexit in the Northern Ireland executive between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
“I think there is a sense of unity of purpose,” he said. However, Mr Brokenshire acknowledged that “clearly there are different views in Northern Ireland.”
“This was a UK wide decision and the UK as a whole will be leaving the EU. But yes, there are specific factors and circumstances that I am very conscious of . . . . . . the executive has a really key role to play to get right the issues that are directly pertinent to Northern Ireland.”