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Foster and McGuinness won't say if Queen discussed Brexit

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness each granted 20-minute audiences with the monarch, but both refuse to reveal if historic EU referendum vote was on agenda

By David Young, PA

Published 28/06/2016

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrive at Hillsborough Castle yesterday where the royal couple met invited guests
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrive at Hillsborough Castle yesterday where the royal couple met invited guests
Queen Elizabeth II with Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster
Queen Elizabeth II with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Crowds wait to catch a glimpse of the royals

Northern Ireland's political leaders have refused to be drawn on whether the Brexit furore was discussed during their meetings with the Queen.

But it appears the 90-year-old monarch is in good health, with reports quickly emerging that when Martin McGuinness asked the monarch how she was, she replied: "Well, I'm still alive."

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster and the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister had separate 20-minute audiences with the Queen after she and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived for a two-day visit to the region.

It is the monarch's first round of public engagements since the UK voted to leave the European Union last week.

After their meetings at Hillsborough Castle, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness batted away questions on whether the referendum was talked about. DUP leader Mrs Foster said that the Queen touched on a "wide range of issues".

"I have just had an audience with the Queen and obviously I am not going to talk about the contents of that," she added.

Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness, who has met the Queen on a number of occasions since their first historic encounter in 2012, said: "We discussed many things, none of which I will tell you."

Mr McGuinness - who first shook the monarch's hand in Belfast's Lyric Theatre - also paid tribute to her contribution to the peace process.

"I am an unapologetic Irish republican and I value very much the contribution Queen Elizabeth has made to the peace process and to reconciliation," the Deputy First Minister explained.

In Northern Ireland, 56% of voters backed Remain in the referendum. The outcome prompted Sinn Fein to call for a border poll on Irish unity - a demand the UK Government has rejected.

While Sinn Fein and the DUP share power in Stormont, they are on different sides of the Brexit debate.

Mrs Foster, a Leave advocate, pledged to work with Sinn Fein to jointly respond to the consequences of the vote.

"We said before the referendum we would work together to deal with the issues, and that's what we intend to do," she said.

A crowd of well-wishers gathered at the gates of Hillsborough Castle as the royal couple arrived on Monday evening.

Today, the Queen and Philip will head to Northern Ireland's scenic north coast for a series of engagements.

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