We want optimum Brexit deal for Northern Ireland within the UK but outside EU, James Brokenshire says
Northern Ireland should enjoy the best possible deal outside the EU following Brexit, James Brokenshire has said.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said an ambitious free trade agreement with European neighbours should reflect the unique circumstances on the island where keeping the border with the Republic open is a key concern.
Sinn Fein has said the campaign for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK with a land frontier with an EU state, to enjoy special designated status within the EU is gaining momentum.
Read moreSpecial status campaign building momentum across Europe, Sinn Fein says
Mr Brokenshire said: "We recognise those unique factors and circumstances which are clear and reflected in the Article 50 letter.
"What we want is the optimum deal for Northern Ireland within the UK but outside the EU.
"That is our focus, that is what we will be working with our European partners to achieve and I think that we can do that."
Businesses have expressed concern at the prospect of restrictions on movement across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Mr Brokenshire said there was a commitment to an ambitious free trade agreement, barrier-free and tariff-free, as well as preservation of the existing Common Travel Area (CTA) allowing freedom of movement between the UK and Ireland.
He added: "I am confident that we can secure that.
"It is with that positive approach that we take into the negotiations, respectful of the values of our European partners, which we share.
"Therefore we should see this as that opportunity to set a new relationship but a positive relationship, a mature relationship, one that recognises the importance of our relationship with the Republic of Ireland."
Prime Minister Theresa May has said her Government "will never be neutral" on the future of Northern Ireland as calls for a referendum on a united Ireland intensify following the Brexit vote.
Mr Brokenshire said the circumstances did not exist for a border poll.
He visited the Newry offices of all-Ireland trade body Intertrade Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Secretary has been leading efforts to reach agreement on restoring devolved government at Stormont.
He said the strongest way to enhance Northern Ireland's negotiating voice over Brexit was to have a power-sharing ministerial Executive in place and promised to redouble his efforts to secure agreement.
He added that was why the letter triggering Article 50 had underlined the importance of the unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland.
"We can look to the future positively as to what we can secure from that, knowing that we want to see the Common Travel Area and other aspects here protected and advanced through this."