Belfast Telegraph

PM's 'muddled thinking' over border controls will not help NI, claims Farry

By Jack Maidment

Theresa May's prioritisation of border and immigration issues during divorce negotiations with Brussels is bad news for Northern Ireland, Alliance has said.

The party's deputy leader Stephen Farry MLA said Mrs May's lack of emphasis on the economy demonstrated "wishful thinking" and showed how vital it was for Stormont to agree a plan in the wake of any Brexit.

The Prime Minister used her first broadcast interview of the New Year to outline her belief that she will be able to secure control over immigration as well as favourable trading terms with the European Union. She told Sky News: "We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws.

"This is what people were voting for on June 23. But of course we still want the best possible deal for us, companies to be able to trade, UK companies to be able to trade in and operate within the European Union and also European companies to be able to trade with the UK and operate within the UK."

Critics believe it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the government to secure full access to the single market while also demanding complete border control.

But Mrs May said: "It's wrong to look at this as just a binary issue as to either you have control of immigration or you have a good trade deal."

Mr Farry, Alliance's Brexit spokesman, said Mrs May's comments show a pressing need for special status for Northern Ireland. He said: "The direction of travel is foolhardy.

"It is clearly not in the economic and social interests of the UK as a whole, and Northern Ireland's interests especially, for the UK to leave either the Single Market or the Customs Union.

"To continue to place the primary emphasis on taking control of border and immigration, and expect there can be a beneficial economic outcome is both wishful and muddled thinking.

"There is no logic in compromising the economic relationship with our largest and nearest trading partner. These comments once again highlight the dangers of a hard Brexit to Northern Ireland and reinforce the imperative of the Executive having a proper plan to argue for special arrangements being put in place for us."

Meanwhile, Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has said hopes of avoiding a "hard border" with Northern Ireland after Brexit centre on the EU conceding a special case for treating the entire island as a single unit.

He said he hoped the EU may be able to persuade London on a common position for the entire island of Ireland.

This would ensure the freedom of goods and people on the island and avoid a border for customs or immigration.

He said the EU has "invested heavily" in the peace process, with a total of €3.5bn in cross-border and special peace grants since the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, therefore Brussels will want to safeguard it.

"The European Commission has a vested interest in protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the success it has been in bringing peace to the island of Ireland since 1998," he said.

He also warned that if the UK leaves the EU Single Market then "a hard border" with Northern Ireland, involving potential identity controls and customs tariffs, looked inevitable.

"Clearly, Brexit is a mess and getting messier," he added.

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