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Sinn Féin says Theresa May will hear of 'catastrophic implications' of Brexit during her Irish border visit

May visited business owners and farmers along the border to discuss their concerns about the UK leaving the EU today.

Sinn Féin Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill speaks to media at a press conference in Coalisland, Co Tyrone
Sinn Féin Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill speaks to media at a press conference in Coalisland, Co Tyrone
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Jul 19th 2018, 10:44 PM

SINN FÉIN HAS said that British Prime Minister Theresa May will hear of the “catastrophic implications” of Brexit during her trip to Northern Ireland – her first visit to the Irish border as the UK premier.

During the first day of her visit to the North today, May visited business owners and farmers along the border to discuss their concerns about the UK leaving the EU.

Speaking as May visited Fermanagh today, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said: “She will hear at first hand the catastrophic implications for our economy, our rights and our future. The fears that businesses have for their future survival. The justified fears of individuals in relation to the diminution of their rights.”

She added that the Prime Minister would hear “the dismay and alarm that exists here in this community”.

“The last two years can only be characterised as chaos, confusion and contradiction,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said: “I will be setting out Sinn Féin’s serious concern about the failure by the British government to protect the rights and interests of the people of the North who voted to remain in the EU.

“The situation is intolerable and unacceptable.”

Tomorrow, May will give a speech in Belfast, and will meet the leaders of the five main parties in Northern Ireland, probably to discuss ways of reestablish negotiations to form a Stormont executive.

O’Neill said that Sinn Féin will “remind the British Prime Minister of the agreement she made back in December”.

“We will point out to her that there can be no withdrawal agreement without a legally operable backstop,” she said.

“We will not tolerate the British government trampling over our rights, our economy, our jobs or our services for Theresa May’s political expediency.

“This is a time for cast iron guarantees. For legal assurances on the backstop and Irish protocol.”

It’s been over a year and a half since the Stormont Assembly collapsed and the North was left without a government; since then civil servants have been making decisions for the region and Westminster passed a budget to keep funding for essential services going.

May’s spontaneous visit also comes during a tense time in Brexit talks: the EU is becoming increasingly frustrated with the UK’s public statements on what they want without any detail on how to achieve that.

The most complex of these examples is the Irish border question itself: May and members of her Cabinet have repeatedly said that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland, but that can’t happen if the UK leaves the EU without a deal or if the trade and customs deal they strike is far different from the EU Customs Union.

Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May leaves following a visit to Belleek pottery factory on the northern side of the border between Enniskillen in Northern Ireland and Ballyshannon in Donegal Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

Speaking ahead of her visit, May said: “I look forward to hearing views from businesses on the border in Northern Ireland on our departure from the European Union.

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.

May said that’s why the UK government has ruled out “any kind of hard border”.

“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,” she said.

“From the start of the negotiations, the UK government has put Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances at the heart of our negotiations. And nothing will undermine our commitment to protecting the Belfast Agreement.”

Where are we in Brexit talks?

The British government recently published a White Paper on its exit from the European Union, which has been criticised as a fudge that keeps neither Remainers or Brexiteers happy. The Paper will then be used as a basis for negotiations with the European Union.

The UK has been voting on amendments to its EU Withdrawal Bill and legislation for its proposed customs arrangements with the EU (which Tánaiste Simon Coveney labelled as “unhelpful” yesterday).

By October, it’s currently planned that members of the European Union will vote on the proposed Brexit plan, as will members of the House of Commons. Both parliaments must pass the final deal before it is put into action, and there’s significant doubt over whether that will happen – especially in such a short timeframe.

Although the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has reassured Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that there will be no hard border, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there are still concerns of what could happen (World Trade Organisation sources said that there would have to be a border in a hard Brexit or no-deal scenario).

In a statement to the media yesterday, Varadkar also tried to hammer home the consequences a hard Brexit could have on the UK.

If they want their planes to fly over our skies, they would need to take that into account… You can’t take back your waters and then expect to take back other people’s sky.
With reporting by Hayley Halpin.

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