Irish border has to be fluid, says Tory minister in wake of his first visit
One of the emerging key figures in implementing Brexit within Theresa May's Government has said his first visit to the Irish border yesterday highlighted the importance of maintaining its fluidity after the UK leaves the EU.
Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis, who is responsible for 'Brexit preparedness' within the Cabinet Office, visited Londonderry and Belfast during a one-day fact-finding mission yesterday.
The senior Tory, who also chairs the party, met business leaders in Londonderry and was taken to the border village of Muff before meeting representatives of the freight industry in Belfast Harbour.
The visit came nine days after Theresa May outlined that the Cabinet Office is now in charge of Brexit negotiations and not the Brexit department (DExEU).
The Chancellor Philip Hammond embarked on virtually the same trip during a visit to the province last week.
Mr Lewis, who chairs an inter-ministerial group on borders in his cabinet role, was tasked with discussing the Government's Brexit White Paper with businesses here.
Among those he met yesterday were representatives from Derry Chamber and the Freight Transport Association.
However, the minister said the main aim of yesterday's trip here was to learn.
"You can read briefings, you can sit in meetings, but I like to meet people and see things for myself, with my own eyes.
"I went down and physically saw the border in Muff and, being at the port this afternoon, I saw with my own eyes how things work,
"I have been talking to businesses on the ground about how in practice things work, about flow of people across the border, the flow of goods to and from the border, both north and south.
"It just really highlights and brings to life the importance of keeping the border fluid."
Mr Lewis said businesses had highlighted their concerns and said they want to ensure that the White Paper would retain fluidity at the border.
"There's no question at all for me, that the common thread that came through with everybody we met, was about making sure that there was no border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland and indeed between east and west."
The Minister said while any deal must protect the integrity of the United Kingdom, he accepted that the UK's agreement with the EU must also ensure the flow of goods and services and the ability to trade freely across the border.