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Nowhere will be more damaged by Theresa May's Brexit plan than Northern Ireland, says SDLP

Sinn Fein say Brexit plans create a 'hard border' for island of Ireland

By Claire Williamson

Nowhere will be more damaged by Theresa May's Brexit plan than Northern Ireland, the SDLP have said.

Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her plans for Britain's exit from the EU in a speech on Tuesday saying that she does not want an outcome that leaves the UK "half-in, half-out" of the European Union.

Among the 12 objectives Mrs May set out, the Prime Minister said maintaining the common travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland was a "priority" during the negotiations.

She said "no-one wants to return to the borders of the past".

Mrs May said she wanted to negotiate a new form of customs union.

The European Customs Union currently allows paperwork and tariff free trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

If the deal can't be reached it could lead to custom checks at the Irish border.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the exit from the single market and the customs union will mean "economic devastation".

He said: "Nowhere will be more damaged by this vision than Northern Ireland."

Read more:

Response to Brexit must be stepped up, Enda Kenny warned

Theresa May says Ireland's border 'important priority' in Brexit negotiations and calls for Stormont politicians to reestablish government 

Theresa May's Brexit speech in full

Brexit: UK will leave EU whether Parliament backs Theresa May's deal or not 

Mr Eastwood continued: “The idea that the unelected, unrepresentative British House of Lords would receive a vote on the terms of Brexit but that the devolved regions won't, is an act of democratic vandalism.

“Theresa May talked about 'self-determination' in her speech. She would do well to finally wake up to the reality that Northern Ireland determined that our economic and political interests are best served in Europe. That is why the SDLP are campaigning for special status. 

“In her speech the British Prime Minister gives assurances on free travel but gives no assurances and exceptions on trade.

“It is important that the full consequences of this are understood - no free trade and customs across the island means a hard Brexit in Ireland. It means a hard border.

“If the British Government can negotiate special arrangements on the common travel area, they can negotiate special arrangements for trade and customs.

He added: "Brexit is too serious to allow their inaction to go on any longer.”

Reacting Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said it would mean a "hard Brexit for Ireland".

Mr Adams said: "The decision to leave the single market and the customs union sets Britain on course for a hard Brexit. The economic and political implications of this for the people of this island are significant.

“The British Prime Minister provided no new information about Britain’s approach to the North in respect of Brexit; no willingness to look at a special designated status for the North within the EU; no real role for the devolved governments in the negotiations; and old rhetoric on the future of the Common Travel Area."

Mr Adams added: “Her remarks on the future of the Common Travel Area contained no new detail.

“As she has said before Ms May set the future of the border and any arrangements with the island of Ireland in the context of Britain’s determination to control immigration and defend its borders.

“It is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without significant changes to the current border arrangements.

“The British Prime Minister also said that the electorate voted with their eyes open to leave the European Union. She ignores the fact that voters in the north did not. They voted to remain."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry heavily criticised the plans to leave the European single market calling it a "catastrophe" for Northern Ireland.

Dr Farry said it was vital special arrangements were put in place for Northern Ireland.

“Today’s speech is the most reckless and self-defeating plan from a UK Prime Minister in decades. While at long last, the UK Government have indicated their preferred direction of travel, many of those objectives are either unrealistic or destructive.

“We have a Government now openly opting to reduce the potential of its economy. The notion of a global Britain is a contradiction in terms, especially in the context of separating the existing integrated economy offered by the EU and our nearest and largest trading partner, plus erecting barriers to the movement of people.

“Often there is a false argument made there is a choice between the UK optimising its trading within the EU and opening up new trade agreements with other parts of the world. As the recent Canadian-EU trade agreement shows, both are mutually compatible.

“While the implications of this roadmap will be severe for the UK as whole, they will be catastrophic for Northern Ireland. In particular, any departure from the customs union and the single market will necessitate a formal border either across the island of Ireland or down the Irish Sea. Barriers will be erected in terms of either the east-west or north-south relationships which are recognised and empowered under the Good Friday Agreement. There will be far-reaching political and constitutional implications."

The Ulster Unionist party said for Northern Ireland's sake Theresa May "must get Brexit negotiations right".

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said: "In negotiating our departure from the Single Market, the Prime Minister needs to ensure that we will not fall victim to punitive tariffs. As it stands, the default tariffs of agricultural products into the EU are huge.

"For example WTO tariffs on UK exports would equate to 47% on milk, 40% on cheese and 40% on lamb. Given that a large chunk of Northern Ireland’s agricultural produce is exported and the cross-border nature of supply chains, the sector locally could be decimated if it faces these tariffs.

“Similarly a bespoke customs agreement needs to be reached to allow goods to move freely across the border. We do not want to go back to the days of lorries queuing up on either side of the border due to customs checks.

“Sources I have spoken to in Brussels are aware that the border will be the biggest challenge for both the EU and the UK in these negotiations.

“This is just the outline of the Prime Minister’s initial negotiating position. We still have some way to go.

“For Northern Ireland’s sake, we have to get this right. If we don’t, we will have the most to lose.”

The DUP said that leaving the single market will help the United Kingdom "become stronger".

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said: "The Prime Minister recognises that Britain is already a strong economy which can exist beyond the borders of EU outside the single market.

"We are a growing global trading nation and should continue to be so. Her statement will give the business community more certainty and we welcome her clarity on the Government's Brexit plans.

"I further welcome that the Prime Minister has set out her plan for an ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, whilst here in Northern Ireland we will also maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic. It must be pointed out we are leaving the European Union not the Europe.

"Sinn Fein and others complain that her statement will mean a hard border, however they now have no input as a result of bringing Assembly down. "

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