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Northern Ireland Executive under fire as PM May declines to offer Brexit pledges

By Claire Williamson

Published 19/10/2016

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May has failed to offer any fresh commitments to the Northern Ireland Executive over the looming Brexit.

She was responding to a letter from the First and Deputy First Ministers, in which they sought assurances over the impact of leaving the EU.

The PM insisted the future of the Irish border post-Brexit was a priority for the entire UK, not just Northern Ireland.

She also pledged to take full account of the region's specific interests in the negotiations with Europe.

But her two-page letter did not include any detailed pledges around specific concerns raised by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.

Mrs May said: "I am committed to full engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive on the UK's exit from the EU, and will take full account of the specific interests of the people of Northern Ireland in order to get the best possible deal for all parts of our United Kingdom as we leave the EU."

She highlighted five areas, including the treatment of the agri-food sector, the border and the energy market.

Addressing the future of the border, Mrs May said it was "an important priority for the UK as a whole".

She added: "The UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government have all been clear that we wish to see the continuance of the free movement of people and goods across the island of Ireland and the maintenance of the Common Travel Area across the whole of the UK and Ireland, which has served us well."

Mrs Foster said it was "a significant response".

"I think you'll agree that the Prime Minister has responded to all the issues that we raised, and we look forward to continuing that dialogue and discussion with the Prime Minister at the Joint Ministerial Council next Monday," she said.

Mrs May's response was revealed on the BBC's Nolan show yesterday.

It led the SDLP to question why the letter was not announced in the Assembly chamber on Monday.

But Mrs Foster responded: "It was put into the (Stormont) library at the same time it was released to the media.

"We're challenged about being open and transparent, so we have released it and we placed it in the library the day after we received the letter.

"Of course this is going to be an ongoing issue, and we're going to be receiving many, many letters between ourselves and the UK Government, and we do of course want to release those letters."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for the Executive to abandon its "weak position" on Brexit.

Mr Eastwood said the Executive's silence on the Prime Minister's response during Monday's debate on special EU status in the Assembly revealed that they are embarrassed by its contents.

He added: "It is unfortunate that the reply from Theresa May is equally as vacuous as the original letter she received.

"Four months on from the referendum, we are now left with two empty letters and no answers.

"We are faced with a British Government which has substituted the substance of policy with meaningless mantra."

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry added that more concrete assurances were needed from the Prime Minister.

Belfast Telegraph

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