May Visits Northern Ireland to Discuss Irish Border After Brexit

  • Future of U.K.’s border with Republic of Ireland in doubt
  • Hammond floats possibility of a trade deal with China

Theresa May.

Photographer: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Northern Ireland on Monday to discuss preparations for leaving the European Union and the status of the border with the Republic of Ireland, Britain’s only land frontier with another EU country.

“I have been clear that we will make a success of the U.K.’s departure from the European Union,” May said in a statement ahead of the trip. “That means it must work for Northern Ireland, too, including in relation to the border with the Republic. We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

May’s visit to Northern Ireland, which voted Remain in the June 23 referendum, follows trips to Scotland and Wales as she seeks agreement for a U.K.-wide approach on Brexit negotiations before invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which starts the process to quit the 28-nation bloc.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, speaking at the Group of 20 summit in China, told the BBC that although there had been “global disappointment” about the Brexit vote, it was now important that the U.K. “get on with it” and find a route out of the EU that minimizes economic damage. He floated the possibility of a trade deal with his hosts.

Mood Music

“The mood music that I have heard here is very much that this will mean more opportunity for countries like China that are outside the EU to do business with Britain,“ Hammond said. “And as Britain leaves the EU and is not bound by the rules of the EU perhaps it will be easier to do deals with Britain in the future.”

The Observer reported Sunday that the EU is considering giving the U.K. a seven-year exemption from rules allowing free movement of people while permitting the nation to maintain access to the single market. The plan is just one idea being discussed to be part of the Brexit negotiations, and the talks are still in early stages, the newspaper said, citing high-ranking U.K. officials it didn’t identify. Under the plan, the U.K. would continue contributing to the EU budget.

While that would be unlikely to satisfy those in the Conservative Party who are determined to ensure that May doesn’t go back on her commitment to take Britain out of the EU, it would be appealing to those who want to see the closest possible relationship with the EU. That includes Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Key Interests

She’ll make a speech in Edinburgh on Monday repeating hints that she would put the issue of independence back on the table if the Brexit deal doesn’t secure “five key interests”. These are: making sure Scotland’s wishes are “respected”; keeping the free movement of labor and access to the EU’s single market; keeping EU workers’ rights protections; maintaining cooperation with other EU countries; and having a say in the rules of the single market.

“Democracy, economic prosperity, social protection, solidarity and influence, these are the vital interests that we now seek to safeguard,” Sturgeon will say, according to her office. “They are real and they matter, for jobs, the economy, trade, investment and living standards. That’s why my task today and tomorrow and throughout the length of the coming negotiations will be to protect Scotland’s relationship with and interests in the European Union, and to explore every avenue and every option for doing so.”

Irish Border

On her visit to Northern Ireland, May also will discuss the future of the 310-mile (500 kilometer) border with Ireland, which has been thrown into doubt by the Brexit vote. Free from border controls since embracing the European single market and the end of violence in Northern Ireland, about 30,000 people cross the frontier each day.

After the vote, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said “the likelihood of a hard border” was uppermost in Irish minds. Prime Minister Enda Kenny has played down such an outcome.

“We do not want to see a European border internally on the island of Ireland," Kenny told reporters in Cardiff, Wales, last week. "There will not be a hard border from Dundalk to Derry.”

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