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Northern Ireland needs a Brexit wishlist, insists former Blair aide

By Rachel Martin

Northern Ireland has six months to make a Brexit wishlist if it wants its views to be heard, the Co Antrim man who led Tony Blair's government's communications has said.

Tom Kelly, now communications adviser to Britain's high-speed HS2 rail project, added the list should have no more than six points and should reflect the things the public feels strongest about.

Mr Kelly, who now lives in Aghadowey, was speaking after a breakfast briefing at his former school, Royal Belfast Academical Institution, yesterday.

He said there would be opportunities for Northern Ireland companies to get involved in HS2 and insisted that improving infrastructure was the key to building a successful economy.

"You need to be able to make it as easy as possible for people with skills and products to move around quickly," he added.

"Each week I travel between Belfast and London, and the congestion at Heathrow is a deterrent.

"We have to be particularly clear about what will be important (in the Brexit negotiations).

"I think that there's a danger that the message will be diluted because there's a lot of different messages.

"People in Northern Ireland need to draw up a list of the six things that matter most.

"If you have a long wishlist, it becomes more difficult for the Government - not just in London, but also in Europe - because they'll have to agree to this too."

The former BBC and Belfast Telegraph journalist said it was "understandable" that Prime Minister Theresa May did not want to "show her hand" ahead of negotiations.

"That doesn't mean that Northern Ireland can't help that process by thinking through what is important for it," he insisted.

"It's particularly important for Northern Ireland - we are on the front line. We are the only part of the country that will have a border directly with another EU country."

Mr Kelly was Tony Blair's spokesman from 2001 to 2007 and led communications at the Northern Ireland Office during the peace process.

Belfast Telegraph