Belfast Telegraph

Brexit Secretary pledges deal will protect constitutional integrity of UK

Dominic Raab, however, insisted that he is confident he can secure a good deal before the UK leaves the European Union.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has pledged that the Government will not sign up to any deal which could threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK.

Mr Raab made the comment following a one-day visit to Northern Ireland.

He visited two sea ports before meeting a number of local political parties.

Mr Raab heard opposing views from the two biggest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill speaking to the media in the Great Hall at Stormont, Belfast, following a meeting with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (Brian Lawless/PA)

The DUP urged that there be no additional barriers between the Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK after Brexit.

Sinn Fein told him that the UK government must agree to a backstop plan which could see Northern Ireland effectively remaining in the customs union and single market.

However, Mr Raab insisted he is confident the Government can get a “good deal”.

“We have made it very clear we would never sign up to anything that would threaten the economic, the constitutional, let alone the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom,” he told the BBC.

Asked twice whether it had ruled out any new regulatory checks at the Irish Sea border, he said: “We are engaged in a negotiation process.

“We have made it very clear that whether it’s the customs regime for the UK as a whole, or the wider economic integrity of the UK as a whole, we will not allow any proposals to be accepted that would jeopardise that, and that is the crucial thing here.

“Of course we want to maintain frictionless trade with our EU partners, but the internal market within the UK is absolutely crucial too.

“They are not binary choices, we want to preserve both and also enhance and increase our opportunities for global trade which would be good for the UK and good for Northern Ireland too.”

“We are engaged in negotiations, I need to protect the integrity of those negotiations, but we are confident we can get a good deal, good for all corners of the United Kingdom and good for every community here in Northern Ireland.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed Mr Raab’s visit.

“I am glad that he took the chance to visit the ports today because he would have been able to see what happens at the ports,” she said.

“We are engaged in an ongoing process, we want to be as helpful as we can in these negotiations, we want to get a deal on exiting the European Union that is good for Northern Ireland and it can only be good for Northern Ireland if we remain a full part of the United Kingdom.”

However, Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald accused the UK government of “acting in bad faith”.

“We have reminded him that he and his government last December signed up to that, understood that the north of Ireland is a particular scenario with a need for a bespoke and particular solution,” she said.

“We have told him that he and his government are acting in bad faith, that they have stepped back from the commitments that they made to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts, to ensure no hardening of the border on our island and to ensure no loss of rights for our citizens.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann expressed disappointment that Mr Raab had not stayed longer.

“As we do not have an Executive in place to ensure that Northern Ireland’s case is made in the Brexit negotiations, it is all the more important that senior figures such as Dominic Raab should come here and meet with local businesses and political parties,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long also pressed Mr Raab for a backstop plan.

Mr Raab started his day in Northern Ireland with a visit to Warrenpoint Port in Co Down.

He was criticised there for not meeting with public representatives and local people.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard said he was not given the opportunity to engage with Mr Raab.

“Dominic Raab is like a thief in the night coming in and out, not providing opportunity, not just me personally but the people I represent, and the media should have the opportunity to be able to ask the hard questions,” the Sinn Fein man said.

SDLP South Down MLA Sinead Bradley said: “For the Brexit Secretary to visit and essentially adopt the attitude of ‘we will talk about you but not to you’ really just amplified the attitude that has been used by this Executive and the Tory government.

“It’s absolutely disgraceful and must be called out.”

Mr Raab also visited Newry Police Station where he met with officers before travelling to the port of Larne in Co Antrim – currently the only approved port of entry for livestock imports into Northern Ireland.

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