Belfast Telegraph

May's Brexit speech sounds good for Northern Ireland, but weakened authority may not see her vision come to fruition

Editor's Viewpoint

From a Northern Ireland perspective, Theresa May's major Brexit speech yesterday sounded good. It put the key concerns on this side of the Irish Sea about withdrawing from the EU in the spotlight and assured listeners that she was determined to deliver on her vision of the way ahead.

No hard border, retention of the common travel area and nothing that would damage the Good Friday Agreement - those are assurances that we all wanted to hear.

Even the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was moved to give her comments a special welcome. There was stronger endorsement from DUP leader Arlene Foster and the expected dissent from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.

Sadly, Brexit is a tribally divisive issue in this part of the UK, with unionists seen as broadly agreeing to withdrawal from Europe and nationalists broadly against.

Mrs May's speech was seen as an attempt to kick-start serious negotiations with the other 27 EU members, but the EU's chief negotiator noted that her vision was just that - words which have to be fleshed out to give substance to what she sees as the way forward.

These are the most important negotiations that most of us have witnessed in our lifetimes and it is evident that no side has a definite sense of how they may progress, or what the final outcome will be.

The Prime Minister was in a conciliatory mood, which may bring a new sense of realism to the discussions, but which will not play well with the hardline Brexiteers in her own party.

The disastrous General Election result for the Tories has weakened her authority and while she has attempted to rein in the more intemperate remarks of some of her Cabinet colleagues, she evidently does not feel she is in a position to demote any.

A concern is that her vision for Northern Ireland post-Brexit may not be realised if she becomes a victim of the internecine war within her own party.

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