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Nobody wants return to Irish border of the Troubles: May

New PM in move to calm fears on her first NI visit

By Cate McCurry

Published 26/07/2016

Prime Minister Theresa May with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin
McGuinness at Stormont Castle, Belfast, during her first official visit to Northern Ireland yesterday
Prime Minister Theresa May with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle, Belfast, during her first official visit to Northern Ireland yesterday

The Prime Minister has insisted she will do all she can to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

Theresa May said that "nobody wants to return to the borders of the past" during her first official trip to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister.

In a bid to allay fears over the UK's departure from the EU, the Tory leader promised to find a "practical solution" for everybody and emphasised her commitment to the whole of the UK.

Mrs May arrived at Stormont Castle yesterday morning and spent some 90 minutes in discussions with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, focussing mostly on the impact of the Brexit vote and what it means for Northern Ireland.

The new Prime Minister described her talks with Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness as "very constructive" and "positive".

"We've had a common travel area (CTA) between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union," Mrs May said. "Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past.

"What we do want to do is to find a way through this that is going to work and deliver a practical solution for everybody - as part of the work that we are doing to ensure that we make a success of the UK leaving the European Union - and that we come out of this with a deal which is in the best interests of the whole of the UK."

In Northern Ireland, 56% of voters opted for remaining in the EU, and the UK-wide vote to leave triggered intense political wrangling.

The result also sparked a renewed debate on a potential referendum on reunification with the Republic of Ireland.

The Stormont Executive is divided on the EU, with Mrs Foster's DUP backing Brexit and Sinn Fein advocating remaining in the bloc.

But Mrs May insisted that Brexit meant Brexit. "I am clear that the Northern Ireland Executive and the other devolved governments will be involved in our discussions as we set forward the UK position," she said.

"I recognise there's a particular circumstance in Northern Ireland because, of course, it has a land border with a country, the Republic of Ireland, that will be remaining in the EU.

"We've had constructive talks about the will that we all have to find a way through this which is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and the best interests of the UK as a whole."

Following the meetings, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness addressed the media separately, with the DUP leader insisting that no one wanted a return of the borders that were seen at the height of the Troubles.

Referring to her discussion with the Prime Minister, she added: "We had a good discussion around free movement of people and the CTA, and no one wants to see a return to the borders of the 70s, 80s and 90s.

"Of course, those borders were there for security reasons - they were not there for any membership of the EU - and what we want to see is the free movement of people in terms of the CTA and dealing with the other issue of immigration in a very different way, and that's where we are focusing.

"One of the most fundamental points I put to her was that there must be no internal borders within the UK, and I was very clear about that. She responded positively about that."

However, Mr McGuinness said that with most of voters in Northern Ireland wanting to remain part of the EU, he spoke for the majority of the electorate.

"Unionists, nationalists and republicans have made it clear they see their future in Europe," the Deputy First Minister added.

"It will come as no surprise that our assessment is that there is absolutely no good news about Brexit.

"There are no good opportunities flowing from Brexit. There are huge challenges for all of us in the time ahead.

"It is my view that she (Mrs May) needed to recognise that there are special circumstances in the North, and she has a duty to respect the democratically expressed wishes."

But Mrs Foster insisted that politicians should be working together for all the people of Northern Ireland.

"We all know that there was an election in May, and the DUP as a result of that had 38 members and he has 28 members, so I think we jointly speak for the people of Northern Ireland," the First Minister explained.

"I speak for the unionist majority and he speaks for the nationalist majority. But together we should be looking to achieve what is best for all of the people of Northern Ireland, and not trying to make political point-scoring out of what's occurred."

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