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Mounting fears over PM May's hard Brexit stance in the absence of Northern Ireland Assembly

By Gavin Cordon

Assembly members have hit out after Theresa May indicated she would set out her stall for a 'hard' Brexit in a major speech tomorrow.

It comes as the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire prepares to announce a fresh Assembly election today.

The Prime Minister has been accused of preparing to trigger a full-scale "trade war" with the European Union amid reports she is ready to pull the UK out of the single market.

In a ratcheting-up of the government's rhetoric, Chancellor Philip Hammond also signalled that ministers could slash corporation tax rates if British exporters were faced with new tariff barriers outside the EU.

Downing Street would not be drawn on reports Theresa May would announce plans for a "clean Brexit" - withdrawing from the single market and the European customs union in order to regain control of immigration and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

However, The Sunday Telegraph quoted a government source as saying: "She's gone for the full works. People will know when she said 'Brexit means Brexit', she really meant it."

The Brexit timetable means the split from Europe could be triggered while the parties in Stormont are deep in post-election talks and with no First or Deputy First Ministers. Mr Brokenshire said he would represent Northern Ireland in Brexit talks instead.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood warned that it could be illegal for the government to trigger Article 50 to begin Brexit in the absence of functioning institutions here. The Foyle MLA said: "Until the imminent verdict of the Supreme Court in London, there remains a major question mark over the legality of that statement.

"Mr Brokenshire has no right to speak on behalf of anyone in Northern Ireland - including on Brexit."

Alliance deputy leader and Brexit spokesperson Stephen Farry warned that "a hard Brexit would have serious and particular political and economic consequences for Northern Ireland".

"Not only are these risks being played down and indeed ignored by the UK government, but the greatest dangers to the viability of this region are coming at a time of massive political instability and dysfunctionality in government hampering any effective response," the North Down Assemblyman added.

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