Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland unlikely to stay in single market, says James Brokenshire

A bespoke solution for Northern Ireland in the Brexit process is unlikely to see it remain in the single market or customs union, the Secretary of State has said.

James Brokenshire said it was difficult to imagine how the region could remain in such European structures if the UK leaves them.

Mr Brokenshire reiterated the Government's approach to handling the Irish border post-Brexit as he met with European officials in Brussels.

"We joined the Common Market in 1973 as one United Kingdom and we will leave the European Union in 2019 as one United Kingdom," he said.

"And as the Prime Minister has made clear leaving the EU will mean that we leave both the single market and the customs union.

"I find it difficult to imagine how Northern Ireland could somehow remain in while the rest of the country leaves.

"But as we have made equally clear we are determined to find bespoke solutions to Northern Ireland's unique circumstances not least as the only part of the UK to share a land border with an EU member state.

"We need to deliver an outcome that works for all parts of the United Kingdom."

"We fully recognise the extent to which the Northern Ireland economy, while an integral part of the UK economy, is also fully integrated with that of Ireland particularly in areas like the agri-food sector.

"We fully recognise the flow of traffic across the border on a daily basis for people going about their business be it to work, study, shop or simply visit friends and relatives.

"And we fully recognise those ties of family and shared history that exist between people on the island of Ireland as well as between Ireland and Great Britain.

"All of this requires creative and imaginative thinking by the UK and Irish Governments along with negotiating partners in the EU.

"But I believe solutions can be found and it is in that positive sense that the UK Government has approached the current phase of negotiations and we will continue to do so."

Mr Brokenshire met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan.

He also met with Sir Julian King, the British European Commissioner, to discuss the latest security developments in Northern Ireland.

The Conservative MP updated MEPs, including those from the island of Ireland, on the state of negotiations to restore a devolved government in Belfast.

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson claimed it was hypocritical for Mr Brokenshire to talk about protecting the interests of Northern Ireland.

She accused him of trying to "pull the wool over the eyes" of the EU.

"He talks about protecting the interests of the north but in reality his government's Brexit agenda can only damage those interests," she said.

Ms Anderson added: "It's long past the time that the British government listened to the EU negotiators and the citizens of the north and brought forward credible proposals which recognise the unique circumstances of the north of Ireland and deliver special status for the North within the EU."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood warned that Mr Brokenshire could not become the "de facto voice" of Northern Ireland on Brexit.

"Today's visit by James Brokenshire to Brussels once more symbolises the cost of failing to form a Government in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Instead of our local government updating the European institutions, it was instead left to the British Secretary of State.

"The Secretary of State does not speak for the Remain majority in Northern Ireland, his party has no representation and no mandate here, and yet the absence of an Executive and Assembly is allowing him to inherit the role as our voice and representative on Brexit.

"The imposition of Direct Rule will only make this situation worse."

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