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Brexit: DUP minister Hamilton won't say how he voted but he's backing Arlene Foster

By John Mulgrew

Published 04/07/2016

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

The DUP minister in charge of Northern Ireland's economy has said his job has become "a lot more challenging" since the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Simon Hamilton said he backed Arlene Foster's decision for the party to support Brexit, and added there was no point in lingering over the result as it was now time to deal with the consequences.

Asked on a number of occasions, the minister declined to reveal his personal position on Brexit, arguing that it was "time to move on".

In his first newspaper interview since taking over his new portfolio, Mr Hamilton told the Belfast Telegraph: "I don't want to go back over... the referendum has happened. We are now having to deal with the consequences of the result.

"My job as minister, I don't think it helps my job to start getting in to all of the 'this, that and the other' about the referendum, what happened and who said what. There's no point getting in to whether I supported one side or the other."

Mr Hamilton added: "I don't think it advances things at all to start to pick over what happened in the campaign, what people said or what people promised. The result is the result.

"The party's position was clear, and I supported the party's position."

He added that the United Kingdom and the Union overall was as "secure as it has ever been", and that First Minister Mrs Foster continued to have a "resounding mandate" to represent Northern Ireland despite the majority of people here voting to stay in the European Union.

Mr Hamilton said that while his role as Economy Minister "got a lot more challenging" because of the vote, he would fight for Northern Ireland's best interests, including free movement across the border.

Mr Hamilton's lead role in the Department for the Economy is his third ministerial post at Stormont.

The bulk of businesses and business groups here supported the Remain camp.

One survey, from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said 81% of its members backed staying.

Mr Hamilton's predecessor Jonathan Bell had previously said he was in support of a reformed EU.

Addressing concerns about the likely impact on trade and commerce, Mr Hamilton said: "I completely understand the concerns that businesses have.

"Businesses don't like uncertainty, and this is a period of uncertainty."

He said companies he had spoken to had raised "long, lengthy lists of issues" about how Brexit could impact on trade.

"I can understand any and all emotions," he added.

"For many businesses, they are only starting to work through (the implications), and scenario planning.

"Many of them didn't expect what has happened. They are still getting to grips with the outcome as well."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is summoning business leaders to a meeting today to discuss the vote to Leave, while Mr Hamilton's department will also meet with companies later today.

He pointed out some firms saw certain opportunities in the Brexit result. "It is happening and we have to deal with the consequences (of Brexit). We are absolutely in contact constantly with people in the business community," he added.

Mr Hamilton said ensuring free movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic was key.

And he added that negotiating a deal for our businesses to sell into the EU Single Market was also crucial.

"There are a huge number of manufacturing firms who are selling quite a lot of their produce into the EU. Clearly they want to see that market protected, and to get free access into that market," he pointed out.

On the referendum outcome itself, he added: "I would happily admit that I was surprised by the result. I went to bed not long after polls closed and I expected it to be a tight result, perhaps 52-48 in the other direction."

Mr Hamilton said he would not be joining the hundreds of people here now applying for an Irish passport.

And he described David Cameron as a "very good Prime Minister", but wouldn't be drawn on who he favoured to replace him.

Belfast Telegraph

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