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DUP hails May Brexit speech, but lack of detail irks Varadkar

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has said the Prime Minister's keynote Brexit speech sets out the basis for progress in talks with the EU, but the Irish Government has insisted "more detailed and realistic" proposals are needed.

Speaking in London yesterday, Theresa May called for "pragmatic common sense" to deliver a Brexit deal good for both the UK and Europe.

She pledged that Brexit wouldn't jeopardise the peace process and said London and Brussels had a joint responsibility to find a solution on how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. A border in the Irish Sea that would break up the UK's common market was also unacceptable, she stressed.

Arlene Foster said: "The Prime Minister has set forward the basis upon which it would be possible to move forward. I welcome her clear commitment that she will not countenance any new border being created in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK."

The DUP leader welcomed the Prime Minister's pledge that one of her five tests for a Brexit deal was "strengthening the Union".

Mrs Foster, who will meet EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Tuesday, added: "We want to see an outcome that protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK but one that also enables us to have a good trading relationship with our nearest neighbours."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was concerned that some of the constraints of leaving the customs union and the single market hadn't been fully recognised by London. "We will now need to see more detailed and realistic proposals from the UK. Brexit is due to happen in a little over 12 months, so time is short," he said.

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson welcomed Mrs May's speech and said it was a time for pragmatism and not for Brussels and Dublin "sabre-rattling" over the border. "The Prime Minister suggested a number of arrangements that could be put in place to prevent a hard border post-Brexit. The Irish Government and EU Commission cannot just dismiss proposals out of hand and with disdain.

"It will benefit no one for the Commission to continue to approach these negotiations like a petulant child," he added.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald accused Mrs May of failing "to grasp the hard truths and realities" of Brexit. She said: "Brexit is incompatible with the wishes of the people of the North, acts against our economy and undermines our agreements. The British Government knows this and that is why they have failed to bring forward any workable solutions or new thinking."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the Prime Minister of failing to find any solution to the border question.

"The SDLP is happy to restate the only solution that makes any sense," he said. "Northern Ireland should remain in the single market and the customs union to avoid a hard border in Ireland. To avoid a border in the Irish Sea, the island of Britain should remain in the customs union and the single market."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said Mrs May's Brexit speech did "little to address the many contradictions in the UK's Brexit position".

In her address, the Prime Minister insisted a good trade deal was possible from the Brexit talks. "The fact is that every free trade agreement has varying market access depending on the respective interests of the countries involved.

"If this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking," she said.

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