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Foster and Martin McGuinness demand action from May on unique Brexit situation for Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 25/10/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness speak to the Press outside 10 Downing Street yesterday after taking part in talks on the government’s Brexit plans
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness speak to the Press outside 10 Downing Street yesterday after taking part in talks on the government’s Brexit plans

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness have insisted they succeeded in getting a joint message across to Theresa May on Brexit - even though the devolved regions have been denied a more substantial role in the negotiations.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister were speaking after the first meeting between leaders from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister on EU withdrawal.

They said their determination to secure the best possible outcome for the province had been apparent and now promises by Mrs May's ministers on the priority being given to Northern Ireland "must be translated into action".

Mrs May told the leaders of the devolved administrations -including Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh counterpart Carwyn Jones - that she will strike a "bespoke" Brexit deal "that works for the whole of the UK".

But it also became clear that Mrs May had stressed there would be a single deal for the entire UK, without any variations for regions like Scotland and Northern Ireland.

And that in turn brought a stern warning from Ms Sturgeon that she was "not bluffing" about the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence.

At the first meeting for two years of the Joint Ministerial Council - it will now meet more frequently to oversee the lengthy Brexit negotiations - Mrs May said: "Working together, the nations of the United Kingdom will make a success of leaving the European Union - and we will further strengthen our own unique and enduring union as we do so."

She told the other leaders that how the UK leaves the EU should not be seen as a series of "binary choices".

But, she added firmly: "The UK has chosen to leave the EU and we're going to make a success of it."

Ms Foster said: "It's important that we are involved in the heart of process", while Mr McGuinness again warned against the imposition of a "hard border" with the Republic.

Then in a joint statement, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister added: "Commitments have been made by Theresa May's ministers on the priority being attached to our unique circumstances. Those words must be translated into action.

"It is no secret that our parties come from very different positions on Brexit, as indeed on other issues. But we are jointly determined to work together to secure the best possible arrangements and outcomes. We have no doubt that this determination was well understood in the room today."

Responding, SDLP economy spokesperson Sinead Bradley said: "Four months after the referendum and all Martin and Arlene have negotiated is a phone number and the promise of a second date. No seat at the negotiating table, no permanent representation for the Secretary of State at the cabinet Brexit committee, no detail on how the British Government will respect the will of our people."

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said it was a "lowest common denominator agreement approach from the Executive".

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