David Davis: 'We don't want hard border post Brexit, Northern Ireland still open for business'
David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, writes exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph
Northern Ireland is on the up. Of all parts of the UK, it's among the best-performing when it comes to job creation - and there are more opportunities than ever for the next generation.
So I am delighted to be coming to Belfast today with Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to meet First Minister Arlene Foster, a representative from the Deputy First Minister's Office and other senior members of the Executive.
My visit is an indication of my determination to reach out to the parts of the UK where people didn't support an exit from the European Union in as many numbers as elsewhere, as well as those where big majorities voted to Leave.
I will ensure that Northern Ireland's voice is heard as we work towards a Brexit deal that enables every part of the UK to build on what it has achieved and embrace the new opportunities that we know will arise.
Theresa May signalled her Government's commitment to such an approach when she came here on one of her first visits on becoming Prime Minister.
She said then, and I reiterate it now: Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it. There won't be a second referendum - the people of the UK have spoken and delivered a bigger mandate than that given to any Prime Minister in any general election in history.
We must have a UK-wide approach as we prepare for negotiations on our new relationship with the EU.
We will engage fully with the Northern Ireland Executive as we proceed, recognising the particular circumstances that affect this part of the UK.
I also want to hear not just from the politicians, but the people, groups and businesses that have helped to build Northern Ireland's success. Today, James Brokenshire and I will be attending the inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Business Advisory Group, which will help provide an ongoing dialogue with industry.
We want to make sure that Brexit works for businesses and the people they employ, with a particular focus on the wonderful exports that Northern Ireland has to offer. It is encouraging that even businesses and organisations that campaigned actively for Remain are already engaging seriously with the Government about how to achieve the best possible outcome and embrace the opportunities now open to us.
This won't be about Government ministers telling you what is going to happen - it will be a two-way conversation - and we need to hear what people want our relationship with Europe to look like.
Part of that process is building on the foundations which are already in place. The result of the referendum does not change the Government's priorities.
Along with all political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, we will continue to work for peace, stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland. As the Government's manifesto set out last year, we are committed to a brighter, more secure future for the people who live here.
We had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union.
We are clear we do not want a hard border - no return to the past - and no unnecessary barriers to trade. What we will do is deliver a practical solution that will work in everyone's interests, and I look forward to opening the conversation about how that should operate with my colleagues today.
We also want to ensure continuity when it comes to public funding. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has already confirmed that structural and investment fund projects signed before the Autumn Statement and research and innovation projects financed by the Horizon 2020 programme granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave.
Agriculture is a vital part of the Northern Ireland economy, and the Government will match the current level of annual payments that the sector receives through the direct payment scheme until 2020, providing certainty.
As we make the transition to longer-term arrangements, we will ensure the devolved administrations are involved in discussions over how they will work.
We are already working with the Irish Government and I firmly believe this process will take our relationship forwards not backwards.
The United Kingdom is a great and strong country with a bright future and Northern Ireland plays a huge part in its success.
We remain open for business. We are the same outward-looking, globally-minded, free-trading nation we have always been. We may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe - and we should all focus on the new freedoms and opportunities to succeed.
We have promised the devolved administrations will have an important role in the forthcoming negotiations. We will be true to our word. Everyone has a voice as we strike out and take our new place in the world.
You can rest assured that Northern Ireland's will be heard - loud and clear.