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Secretary of State will be key when it comes to negotiating best possible post-Brexit outcome

letter of the day: eu issue

It is frustrating that the Government will not lay out its Brexit plans, but some hints are coming through and, at last, they are quite positive.

As we know, the key issue is the balance between Single Market access and free movement of Labour. For Northern Ireland, of course, the relationship with the Republic is also key.

Government ministers, in the last week, are not ruling out making EU budgetary contributions, post-Brexit, to achieve the best possible Single Market access for goods and services. Common sense, of course. But at last they have said it.

Equally, it now seems to be more widely accepted in Government that provisions will have to be made to ensure a degree of access to our country for workers from the entire EU, which we can assume would be reciprocal. The argument being used is that many business sectors, from highly skilled to unskilled, will require it.

If this is the basis of a negotiating strategy, as I suspect it is, it offers much to work with and something for Northern Ireland to mould to its further advantage.

But, sadly, I doubt the First Minister's heart is really in it. I doubt whether she sees that a very soft Brexit, carefully incorporating the Northern Ireland dimension, could be surprisingly advantageous UK-wide, but even more so for the province. She seems just to want out.

Fortunately, Secretary of State James Brokenshire is a fairly sophisticated politician, who will seek the best for Northern Ireland. He cannot say much yet, but the rest of us can.

It is important that representations from across society are made directly to him, as far as it constitutionally proper, so that we get a complex, but advantageous, outcome for Northern Ireland.

He needs to hear a wide variety of voices, which are less partisan and more imaginative than the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

JOHN GEMMELL

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