Prime Minister in plea for return of Stormont to give Northern Ireland a full say in Brexit talks
The Prime Minister yesterday made a fresh call for the restoration of power-sharing at Stormont to ensure Northern Ireland's voice is heard in the Brexit negotiations.
Theresa May said she wanted to see devolution return as she visited a farm on the outskirts of Bangor, exactly a year before the UK officially leaves the European Union.
She received a tour of Fairview Farm from owners Stephen Jackson, his wife Susanne and young daughters Hannah, Abbie and Emily, before having lunch with farmers, including representatives from the Ulsters Farmers' Union (UFU).
The UFU used the meeting to stress that farmers were committed to continuing to play a major role in the economy as the foundation of the UK's £112 billion food and drink industry and the 3.9 million jobs it involves.
In response to a question from the Belfast Telegraph about whether Northern Ireland had a voice in the Brexit negotiations, the Prime Minister said Stormont should be operating to ensure that voice.
However, there have been no signs of movement over the political stalemate since multi-party talks collapsed last month.
Mrs May described her visit - part of a whistlestop tour of all four nations of the UK - as an opportunity to hear from people here about some of the "day-to-day practicalities" around the border.
"In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, that becomes even more important," she said.
"We will, and I have been, discussing with the parties in Northern Ireland how we can continue to ensure we are talking to them and bringing their views into account.
"I'd like to see a Northern Ireland Executive formed because then the devolved administration can be the voice of Northern Ireland."
In response to criticism she had not visited the border area, as EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier did last year, Mrs May declined to say if she would do so before the UK officially leaves the EU on March 29, 2019.
"My diary over the next year hasn't yet been set, but all I am saying is that I understand," the Prime Minister said.
"I think it's not a question of just whether I actually go and stand on the border, it's a question of, do I understand the impact that has for people?
"What I am doing here today is actually listening to farmers here in Northern Ireland, listening to representatives of the agri-food industry, hearing what they want to see coming out of Brexit and what the opportunities are for Northern Ireland in the future - that's what I have been doing."
Speaking after their lunch meeting, UFU president Barclay Bell said he had warned the Prime Minister that farmers and growers needed more than hints over the future of trading relationships.
"The Government has been hinting that it will do the right things, but farming is a long-term industry that has to plan," he insisted.
"Not knowing what trade arrangements will be in place or how they will be supported makes that impossible."
Mrs May started her tour of the UK yesterday morning in Ayrshire in Scotland before heading to Newcastle in England and then travelling to Northern Ireland.
She later headed to the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, and finished her day-long tour in west London.
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