Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Shrouding David Davis' Irish border visit in secrecy a PR own goal for Brexiteers

By Suzanne Breen

At the height of the conflict, security was understandably tight when government ministers came to Northern Ireland. A trip to the border posed even greater challenges.

But visits were not completely shrouded in secrecy on the day and media access was granted. Dissident republicans are incapable of mounting an attack on a visiting VIP.

So there were no legitimate security reasons for keeping the press -­­­ and therefore the public - in the dark about David Davis's visit to the Co Armagh border yesterday.

The government may have been keen to avoid protesters greeting the Brexit Secretary. But if the plan was to avoid negative publicity, it backfired big-time.

The image of Mr Davis being secretly parachuted in and out has led to a deluge of criticism. It has reinforced the belief - rightly or wrongly - that London knows little, and cares less, about Brexit's effect here. Mr Davis's presence was publicly known only when he tweeted a photo of himself in Middletown.

Remainers will contrast his visit with that of the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, who met farmers, business and transport representatives and community groups in a heavily publicised visit to the same border area last autumn. The Brexit Secretary's avoidance of the media has handed those opposed to leaving the EU a PR victory.

Sinn Fein Senator Niall O Donnghaile tweeted: "David Davis inflicting his reckless Brexit on the people of Ireland against our expressed democratic will. Now he won't do people or even the media the courtesy of letting them know he's in town (I wonder why?!). Who does he think he is, Teresa May?!"

Brexit Secretary David Davis (right) with Peter Sheridan of Co-operation Ireland in south Armagh yesterday

Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt was also critical. He tweeted: "How on earth can the Brexit Secretary make his first visit to the border without informing the media, or talking to anyone beyond the head of the Autism Centre in Middletown? Open, Transparent, Confident in his stance? Not!"

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