Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire insists Northern Ireland will not have EU special status

By Suzanne Breen

Unionist politicians have welcomed the Secretary of State's speech to the Tory conference ruling out special status for Northern Ireland within the EU after Brexit.

Speaking in Manchester yesterday, James Brokenshire rejected suggestions from EU officials and nationalist politicians that Northern Ireland could stay in the customs union and single market after the UK leaves.

"I want to make one thing very clear. We joined the Common Market in 1973 as one United Kingdom. We will leave the European Union in 2019 as one United Kingdom," he said.

"That includes leaving the single market and the customs union so that we can strike new trade deals with the rest of the world."

There must be "no border" between Northern Ireland and Britain or "anything that fractures the internal market of the UK, which benefits Northern Ireland hugely", he added.

In his speech, Mr Brokenshire also urged local politicians to reach agreement to restore power-sharing so he wouldn't have to pass a budget this month.

And he pledged to fight to save jobs at Bombardier, which is involved in a trade war with Boeing that has seen the US impose a 219% tariff on the Canadian company's C Series jet.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann last night welcomed the Secretary of State's "strong and unequivocal comments" on special status. "Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier and their colleagues should be left in no doubt that the UK is leaving the EU as one nation," he said.

Mr Swann accused EU officials of misinterpreting the Belfast Agreement and attempting to undermine the principle of consent. "They seem intent on creating as much rancour as possible. They need to pull their horns in," he added.

The UUP leader welcomed Mr Brokenshire's commitment to Bombardier but said he needed to follow through on his strong words about Boeing. The Government must fight "tooth and nail" against the tariff, he added.

TUV leader Jim Allister also welcomed the Secretary of State's "clarity" on Brexit.

"It was timely for Mr Brokenshire to debunk the divisive suggestions that Northern Ireland could or would be treated differently in our leaving of the EU," he said. "There must be no backsliding on this defining issue and, if the price of a deal is to compromise that core constitutional imperative, then the Government must recognise no deal is preferable."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated in the House of Commons that there will be no new border created in the Irish Sea. The Secretary of State repeating this is to be welcomed. We will not countenance any arrangement which jeopardises our access to the UK single market."

On the Secretary of State's appeal for a deal to save Stormont, Mr Dodds said: "The DUP has no red lines and would have appointed an Executive months ago. Sinn Fein has blocked this for narrow political reasons.

"We continue to work to have devolution restored. Direct rule is not some panacea. We want local ministers making local decisions. We need to have a budget and can't continue without a ministerial-led government."

Arlene Foster and other DUP colleagues will attend the Tory conference this week.

Mr Brokenshire said the Government would "never be neutral" in its support for the Union.

Despite differences, the Tories could work with the DUP, he insisted. 

"We are and will remain two separate parties with our distinctive identities and values. On some issues, we will disagree," he said. "But as two parties we are working together at Westminster in the national interest... standing firm against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, who would lead our country down a path to economic ruin."

Mr Brokenshire said Northern Ireland's politicians had "shown leadership in resolving hugely challenging and sensitive issues" in the past.

"They have created political stability which has been an example to the world. As President Clinton said to me recently... we just can't go backwards. So my message to the parties is now is the time to reach agreement."

Otherwise, the Government would have to set a budget for Northern Ireland later this month "not because we want to but because we have to. It isn't what serves Northern Ireland's interests and it doesn't need to happen", he added.

Mr Brokenshire welcomed local political parties working together to protect jobs at Bombardier. He branded Boeing's actions "unjustified and unwarranted" and "not what is expected of a long-term partner to the UK".

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