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Northern Ireland parties must unite over best Brexit deal

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 03/10/2016

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May, finally, has brought some focus to Brexit by announcing that she intends to trigger the process of leaving the European Union by the end of March next year.

What that announcement should do is stop the meaningless debate, particularly here in Northern Ireland, over whether it was a wise decision or not to back Brexit.

The UK's electorate has spoken and its decision must be respected. What the politicians - and that means those on both sides of the argument - must do now is negotiate the best possible exit terms.

That is vitally important here as the only part of the UK to share a land border with an EU country. What will leaving the EU mean for the continuing relationship between Northern Ireland, the Republic and the rest of the UK?

Nationally, the big issues facing the PM in her negotiations with other EU leaders are twofold: future trading relationships and immigration.

Ideally, UK firms want tariff-free access to the EU even after Brexit, a demand that will be difficult to meet given EU trading arrangements with other non-EU countries.

The UK also wants tighter controls on immigration, another demand that runs contrary to European Union policy.

Freedom of movement of people and tariff-free trading arrangements with the Republic are important also to Northern Ireland, and local politicians must ensure these demands are uppermost in the UK negotiating team's minds.

They must also be reminded of the important role of EU funding in peace-building in Northern Ireland, and in building up the province's infrastructure. While some of the current funding is guaranteed, the political parties need to be united in demanding that the same level of funding is continued when Brexit finally happens. After all, the UK is set to make considerable savings when it leaves the EU as it is a net contributor to Brussels' coffers.

The worry remains that no one is certain of what the future outside the EU will be like. There may be great trading opportunities, but it is obvious the UK Government's main concerns will be on how Brexit affects the City of London and the affluent areas of south east England.

So it is imperative that Northern Ireland's parties avoid pointless bickering and draw up a coherent and cohesive list of issues which will ease the province's path to life outside the European Union.

Belfast Telegraph

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