Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers have insisted the region’s voice must be heard in Brexit negotiations.
Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill presented a united front at the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) meeting in Cardiff between members of the UK Government and the devolved nations on Tuesday.
Their appearance came just two weeks after devolved government in the region was restored following a three-year collapse.
On Monday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told an audience at Queen’s University in Belfast that new checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain are an “indispensable” consequence of the Brexit deal.
Positive progress at Joint Ministerial Committee as First Minister and deputy First Minister secure dedicated new workstream on the implementation of the Ireland/ Northern Ireland protocol and commitments in New Decade, New Approach. Listen to them speak before the meeting â¬ pic.twitter.com/X7w6lWZihO— NI Executive (@niexecutive) January 28, 2020
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove told the BBC after the meeting in Cardiff that the UK Government will “make sure that the unfettered access that we want to have for goods circulating within the UK is absolutely protected”.
He added: “We will do everything we can in order to provide Mr Barnier with all the information he needs to recognise how that’s going to work.”
Mrs Foster said there must be no barriers to trade, either on the border or on the Irish Sea.
“We have a key role to play in future negotiations to ensure our economy is protected and that there are no barriers to trade – either north to south or east to west,” she said.
“Our voice must be heard on all of these issues.”
On way to airport after a busy day in Cardiff discussing Brexit and next phase of negotiation. Standing up for the interests of people at home. pic.twitter.com/Wj4wn9E247— Michelle OâNeill (@moneillsf) January 28, 2020
Ms O’Neill said: “We have a mandate to speak on behalf of the people of the north who have put us into office. That mandate should be respected and our voice must be heard.
“We need real and meaningful engagement and we need our rightful place at the negotiating table to make absolutely sure that the rights of our citizens and the interests of our businesses are protected after Brexit.”
One of the first votes held by the newly reformed Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont was to reject Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have also rejected the Withdrawal Agreement.
However, Mr Gove dismissed suggestions the meeting was one in crisis, after the UK Government said it would press ahead with Brexit despite the rejections of the deal by the regions.
He said Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have a say on future Brexit trade talks.