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You'll have voice in Brexit talks, insists Davis

By Noel McAdam

Published 01/09/2016

David Davis
David Davis

Brexit minister David Davis flies into Northern Ireland today with a promise that the province will not be left out of negotiations on the UK's departure from the European Union.

Writing exclusively in the Belfast Telegraph, the Cabinet minister argued: "We need to hear what people want our relationship with Europe to look like."

Mr Davis, who was in favour of Brexit, said he wanted to "reach out" to parts of the UK, like Northern Ireland, that did not support withdrawal from the EU.

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is due to meet with First Minister Arlene Foster and Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, but not Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who is on holiday.

Afterwards, he and Secretary of State James Brokenshire are to attend the inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Business Advisory Group, which is to help provide a dialogue with industry.

Primarily, however, Mr Davis said he wanted to give reassurance that the voice of Northern Ireland would be heard to ensure "that Brexit works for businesses and the people they employ." He also insisted that it would be a "two-way conversation", saying that he always wanted to hear from other groups apart from business, and from individuals.

In his article today, Mr Davis attempted to respond to the concerns raised in the letter sent to the Prime Minister by Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness which included the border, trading costs, the energy market, drawdown of EU funding and the agri-food sector.

The Brexit minister repeated the assurances of his Cabinet colleague Chancellor Philip Hammond's guarantee to maintain the current level of support for farmers until 2020.

Mr Davis said: "Agriculture is a vital part of the Northern Ireland economy, and the Government will match the current level of annual payments that the sector receives through the direct payment scheme until 2020, providing certainty.

"We had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the EU. We are clear we do not want a hard border and no unnecessary barriers to trade. We also want to ensure continuity when it comes to public funding."

He also reiterated that Mr Hammond "has already confirmed structural and investment fund projects signed before the Autumn Statement and research and innovation projects financed by the Horizon 2020 programme granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave".

DUP leader Mrs Foster was accused of a U-turn by her party's opponents, including Ulster Unionists and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, when the letter was sent to Mrs May.

It emphasised the need for the province to have access to unskilled as well as highly skilled labour, both in the private and public sector, and also referred to the "many thousands of people who commute across the border to work on a daily basis".

Minister Davis said: "We have promised that the devolved administrations will have an important role in negotiations. We will be true to our word."

Finance Minister O Muilleoir has warned there are already firms deeply worried that the Executive is not doing enough to guarantee that Northern Ireland will get its own "bespoke post-Brexit arrangements".

A coalition of 11 industry organisations, convened by the Derry Chamber of Commerce, also urged the Executive to step up and provide "reassurance and confidence".

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