Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, has promised a “practical solution” for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, following Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Ms May was speaking after talks with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on her first visit as PM to Northern Ireland. She said she would seek a Brexit deal with Brussels which was “in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom”.
“If you look ahead, what is going to happen when the UK leaves the European Union is that, of course, Northern Ireland will have a border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain a member of the European Union,” said Ms May.
“But, we’ve had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union.
“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past. What we do want to do is to find a way through this that is going to work and deliver a practical solution for everybody, as part of the work that we are doing to ensure that we make a success of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, and that we come out of this with a deal which is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Ms May said her talks with Ms Foster and Mr McGuinness, at Stormont Castle, had concentrated on the impact of Brexit, and she characterised the discussions as “very constructive ... positive”.
She repeated her vow, made on the steps of Downing St moments after becoming PM, on July 13, that she would govern “for the whole of the United Kingdom — of which Northern Ireland is a valued part”.
She added: “I’m very clear that the government will deliver on the Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement.”
Ms May said: “Brexit means Brexit, but we will be making a success of it and I am clear that the Northern Ireland Executive, and the other devolved governments, will be involved in our discussions, as we set forward the UK position.
“I recognise there’s a particular circumstance in Northern Ireland, because, of course, it has a land border with a country, the Republic of Ireland, that will be remaining in the EU.
“We’ve had constructive talks about the will that we all have to find a way through this, which is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and the best interest of the United Kingdom as a whole.”
In Northern Ireland, 56% voted to Remain and the UK-wide vote to Leave has triggered intense political wrangling in the region. The result has sparked a renewed debate on a potential referendum on Irish reunification.
The Stormont Executive is divided on the EU issue, with Ms Foster’s Democratic Unionists backing Brexit and Mr McGuinness’s Sinn Féin advocating Remain.
Ms May insisted that the UK’s departure from the European Union must work for Northern Ireland and said she would work with all the political parties as she prepares for withdrawal negotiations.
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