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Theresa May: 'The draft Brexit deal keeps us safe, protects jobs, businesses and also preserves the Union'

Theresa May

Throughout the Brexit process I have kept the prosperity and security of Northern Ireland, and our entire United Kingdom, at the front of my mind. The draft deal published last week protects jobs and businesses, keeps us safe, and preserves the integrity of our Union, whilst respecting the result of the referendum.

This is a decisive step in the process of leaving the EU. Negotiators from both sides are now working tirelessly to fill in the detail of our long term future relationship with the EU before I meet the leaders of the other 27 countries in Brussels on Sunday to finalise the deal.

The challenge of Brexit has always been to continue our deep trading links and security cooperation with the EU in our new relationship, whilst freeing us to take advantage of the opportunities, such as an independent trade policy. This deal strikes that balance, and puts Northern Ireland in a fantastic position for the future.

Northern Ireland's constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom is guaranteed, with the Belfast Agreement and the consent principle enshrined in this deal.

When it comes to the economy, as business leaders in Northern Ireland from the CBI, FSB, IoD and Chamber of Commerce have recognised, the Withdrawal Agreement will provide the clarity and certainty that business needs. It ensures they will have time to adjust to our new relationship, avoids a cliff edge, and therefore protects jobs and investment.

As the Ulster Farmers Union have made clear, a No Deal would be especially challenging for Northern Ireland. Although it has been right to prepare for all eventualities, with this deal we have made a critical step towards avoiding this outcome.

The Chief Constable of the PSNI has demonstrated why there is nowhere where our policing and security cooperation with the EU is more important than in Northern Ireland. It is vital that we are able to share information and work together as we do now. The UK remains committed to helping to keep our continent safe, but we need to establish the appropriate systems and mechanisms to make that possible. I welcome the progress we have made on data exchange and extradition but we need to go further. This is one of the most crucial elements of our discussions with the EU this week.

Under this deal the future is certainly bright for Northern Ireland. It will be a gateway to both the EU market and the rest of the UK's market. With a business-friendly regulatory regime, and strong representation in Westminster, it will remain an attractive place to live, invest and do business.

The referendum was won on three main issues: borders, laws and money. This deal will deliver on all three. It makes clear that freedom of movement is coming to an end and that the UK is free to develop a sovereign immigration system that works for every part of our country. This includes retaining the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, and ensuring that we have access to the international talent that our economy needs. In taking back control of our laws we will make sure that we respect the devolution settlements and, in the relevant areas, pass that control to the devolved administrations. Further reason, if it were needed, why it is vital that the parties in Northern Ireland work together to reconvene the Assembly and the Executive.

And this deal confirms that the days of handing over vast sums of money to the EU each year are over. We have agreed a fair settlement on our obligations and rights as a departing member, and so in future we will instead be able to invest in priorities such as health and other public services.

Finally, there has been a lot of focus on the so-called backstop to this agreement that ensures that there can never be a return to the borders of the past in the event that we have not entered into our future relationship by 2021. Although it is important to restate that both sides agree that we never want to use it, and will both be legally bound to use our best endeavours to reach agreement on the future in good time, I understand and share some of the concerns that have been expressed.

I believe the following three points make this an acceptable insurance policy: first, there is the opportunity to extend the Implementation Period instead of entering the backstop; second, the Government will keep regulations consistent across the whole of the UK in order to minimise any checks or controls and ensure no divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain; and third, this is expressly temporary, with a mechanism by which it can be terminated. And of course, in this situation, Northern Ireland would benefit from frictionless access to both the EU and the rest of the UK markets.

I recognise that the referendum caused division in our country, sometimes even between friends and families, but I firmly believe that progress over the next few weeks can mark the beginning of the healing process to bring communities and our country back together.

As Prime Minister, I am determined to do my job and deliver the best deal possible. It will then be time for MPs to do their job and to choose: move forward with this deal in the national interest, or go back to square one with all the chaos that would entail.

Belfast Telegraph

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