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Secret border visit by David Davis showed contempt for politicians, says SF

By Suzanne Breen

Brexit Secretary David Davis has apologised for his secret visit to Northern Ireland after he was accused of showing contempt for local politicians.

Mr Davis spent two hours on the Armagh-Monaghan border on Monday but there was no advance publicity nor media access for the visit.

Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady accused Mr Davis of avoiding a meeting with him because he is "afraid to face the truth about Brexit".

The party asked if the Brexit Secretary had broken the ministerial code by failing to notify Mr Brady, as the local MP, in advance of his visit.

Responding to queries about the lack of notification, a spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: "This was an administrative oversight for which we are happy to apologise."

She said the Northern Ireland Office had been informed ahead of the visit.

Mr Brady's party colleague, West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, said Mr Davis had shown "contempt" for local politicians and not followed protocol in arranging the visit.

He tweeted: "Out of courtesy and protocol he should have informed you (Mickey Brady) as the local MP.

"Shows his contempt to locally elected representatives who know more about the impacts of Brexit than he will ever know."

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna described the visit as "nothing more than a box-ticking exercise".

She said local politicians, organisations and the media should have had the opportunity to talk to the Brexit Secretary.

"A sceptic may say he wanted to duck and dive any questioning. Maybe the minister is troubled that we might actually have asked him if he learned anything and how he plans to stop a hard border here when his government continues to dig its heels in on the customs union," she said.

"This visit was nothing more than a box-ticking exercise. The border shouldn't have just been an after-thought months down the line, but should have been a priority for the Brexit Minister.

"It's clear for all of us to see that the priorities of the UK Government lay with keeping their own cabinet happy and keeping criticism from the DUP to a minimum, not with protecting the rights and economic interests of people in Northern Ireland."

Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt also voiced his criticism.

"How on earth can the Brexit Secretary make his first visit to the border without informing the media, or talking to anyone beyond the head of the Autism Centre in Middletown? Open, transparent, confident in his stance? Not!"

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told the BBC that it was "very important" local MPs were notified ahead of a ministerial visit to their constituencies.

But he dismissed as "nonsense" suggestions that it was unusual for the DUP not to be informed about such a visit.

Mr Dodds said his party was "not made aware of ministerial visits on a day-by-day basis".

He added that Mr Davis was not alone in breaching protocol and that politicians from the Republic had visited Northern Ireland without informing MPs.

Following the short trip, during which the Brexit Secretary was escorted by former senior police officer and Cooperation Ireland chief executive Peter Sheridan, he reiterated the Government's determination to avoid a hard border.

Mr Davis tweeted: "As we leave the EU it's essential both the UK and EU do what it takes to keep the border, which I saw this morning, free from physical infrastructure.

"We are determined to get this agreed by October."

As part of the trip Mr Davis visited an autism centre in Middletown in Co Armagh as well as a nearby food processing company.

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