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Theresa May vows to protect 'special relationship' with Ireland

Keeping the common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland will be a priority in EU divorce talks, British prime minister Theresa May has said.

Mrs May used a keynote address on Britain's Brexit strategy to stress any deal on the sensitive border issue would have to respect the "integrity" of the UK's immigration system.

The UK prime minister said: "We cannot forget that, as we leave, the United Kingdom will share a land border with the EU, and maintaining that common travel area with the Republic of Ireland will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead.

"There has been a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years.

"Indeed, it was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union. And the family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.

"So we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area with the Republic, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom's immigration system.

"Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can."

Responding to the speech, the Irish Government said its key objectives were securing trade and preserving the peace process, which included border issues.

"For Ireland, the priorities for the negotiation process that lies ahead are unchanged: our economic and trading arrangements, the Northern Ireland peace process, including border issues, the common travel area, and the future of the European Union.

"The Government notes that the British approach is now firmly that of a country which will have left the EU but which seeks to negotiate a new, close relationship with it.

"While this will inevitably be seen by many as a "hard exit", the analysis across government has covered all possible models for the future UK relationship with the EU.

"The Government is acutely aware of the potential risks and challenges for the Irish economy and will remain fully engaged on this aspect as the negotiations proceed.

"The Government is under no illusion about the nature and scale of the Brexit challenge. But it is ready," a statement by the Government said.

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