Theresa May seeks to answer local concerns with visit to Irish border
The UK Prime Minister met business people from both sides of the border.
The Prime Minister has made her first visit to the Irish border since the Brexit referendum.
Theresa May toured the Belleek Pottery factory in Co Fermanagh, meeting workers and business representatives from both sides of the border.
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster welcomed her to the famous landmark, which sits close to the almost invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Mrs Foster, whose 10 MPs prop up the Prime Minister’s minority government at Westminster, had extended an invite to Mrs May to visit her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency on what will be a two-day schedule of events in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister had previously faced criticism for failing to hear first-hand from locals living and working near what is to become the UK’s only land border with the European Union.
The border remains a crucial sticking point in Brexit negotiations with the EU, amid a stand-off between the UK and Brussels on how to maintain free flow of movement across the 310-mile frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Brexiteer Mrs Foster insisted Mrs May would come away hearing of the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit.
“This visit will enable Mrs May to speak with people who live, work and travel across the much talked about Irish border on a daily basis,” said Mrs Foster.
“She will hear first-hand examples of how people see both challenges and opportunities for their sectors as we leave the European Union.
“For our part, we want to see a sensible exit from the European Union which works for Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and our nearest neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.
“That must mean that our national Parliament takes back control of our laws, borders and money and that there are no new internal barriers created inside the United Kingdom.”
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill branded the visit “too little, too late”.
“She is coming two years after the referendum, she is coming two years after negotiating with her own party,” she said.
“I am quite clear what she will hear today; she’ll hear about the catastrophic implications of Brexit, the fear and trepidation of the business community in terms of what comes next for them.
“We can’t withstand being outside the customs union and the single market.
“Theresa May needs to realise that we will not be collateral damage her for own reckless Tory agenda.”
Ahead of her arrival, Mrs May had said: “I fully recognise how their livelihoods, families and friends rely on the ability to move freely across the border to trade, live and work on a daily basis.
“That’s why we have ruled out any kind of hard border. Daily journeys will continue to be seamless and there will be no checks or infrastructure at the border to get in the way of this.
“I’ve also been clear we will not accept the imposition of any border down the Irish Sea and we will preserve the integrity of the UK’s internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”
On Friday, Mrs May will deliver a speech in Belfast focusing on how her vision of Brexit, outlined in last week’s Government white paper, will impact Northern Ireland and the border.
Mrs May will also hold talks with the region’s political parties on the two-day trip, with separate bilateral meetings scheduled across both days.
Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved government for 18 months due to a bitter fallout between the two biggest parties – Sinn Fein and the Conservative Party’s confidence and supply partners at Westminster, the DUP.