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Theresa May patently does not have a clue about what type of Brexit she wants to create, says SDLP

By Suzanne Breen

The SDLP has said it is deeply troubling that a year before Brexit the UK Government has provided no clarity on what deal it wants from the European Union.

Alliance and Sinn Fein also expressed serious concerns, while the DUP said a deal was closer than ever, and the Ulster Unionists called for "cool heads".

The parties were speaking as Prime Minister Theresa May today mounts a whirlwind tour of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, with a promise to keep the UK "strong and united" as the final year countdown to leaving the EU begins.

Mrs May will have lunch with farmers near Belfast and will say that whether people voted Leave or Remain, it is important to make Brexit "a success for everyone".

Speaking ahead of her trip, she restated her rejection of EU proposals to effectively create a border down the Irish Sea by keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union.

"As Prime Minister of the UK, I have an absolute responsibility to protect the integrity of the UK. That means ensuring no new barriers are created without our common domestic market," she said.

"No Prime Minister could leave these things to chance because they are absolutely crucial to our success as a country in the future."

But SDLP MLA Claire Hanna last night said: "It is incredible that we are sitting with a year to go until Brexit day on March 29, 2019, and we have absolutely no clarity from the British Government even on what deal they want from Brexit.

"More troubling is that we haven't yet had the guarantee that there will be a Brexit deal at all.

"The truth is that despite the brave face the Prime Minister puts on, she hasn't a clue what Brexit she's creating."

She called for "the Brexiteers and the British Government to get their heads out of the sand".

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said the UK was "closer to a deal than at any previous point in negotiations".

But she warned: "This is not to say we should become complacent.

"The current terms are far from perfect and we have not yet passed the point of no return to avoid a 'no deal'."

Mrs Dodds said "practical solutions" must be found "to the emotive issue of the border which has won many hearts but thus far very few open or practical minds".

UUP MLA Steve Aiken said that while an estimated 150,000 unionists voted Remain, they didn't vote to loosen ties with Britain.

"Even though it is clear that nobody seemingly wants any hard borders - North/South or across the Irish Sea - somehow the rhetoric of a border crisis has been allowed to develop," he said.

"A lot of people who should know better seem to have forgotten that the first paragraph of the (Good Friday) Agreement makes clear that it is for the Northern Ireland people alone, without external interference, to determine the destiny of Northern Ireland alone.

"What we need now are cool heads and workable solutions."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the "best way through Brexit" was for the UK to remain within a customs union with the EU and for Northern Ireland to continue in the single market. He said Brexit posed a threat to the concept of a shared and interdependent Northern Ireland.

"Our politics have become even more polarised, and Brexit and its potential mitigations have become overly associated with identity politics rather than pragmatic consideration of how to best preserve a shared society, to protect and expand existing relationships throughout these islands and to grow our economy," he added.

"Even the most advanced free trade agreement in the world would not be a customs union and resolve the Irish dimension.

"And the mooted technological solutions are increasingly being debunked as untried and untested."

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said: "With one year until Britain leaves the EU, the Tories and their Brexiteer allies in the DUP still have no idea of what they want or how to achieve it.

"They must now bring forward credible proposals for the first time in this process to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is protected, that there is no hardening of the border and that the rights of the people of the North are protected."

Belfast Telegraph

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