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Platform: Theresa May on Brexit, the border and Irish citizenship

Prime Minister Theresa May
Platform: British Prime Minister Theresa May

OVER the past 12 months, I've said many times that while the UK is leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe.

No one voted to end the special ties between the UK and Ireland or to undermine the unique arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland which have underpinned the peace process and have been in place well before our membership of the EU.

I want to show how our proposals will meet the concerns of people who are worried that their ability to travel freely across Northern Ireland and Ireland would be affected.

They want to know whether the unique citizenship rights guaranteed by the Belfast Agreement – and the right to identify as British, Irish or both – would be undermined. In addition, they want to know if there would be a return to the hard borders that no-one wants to see return.

Today, we publish a position paper which sets out how we want to approach these and other issues in the negotiations.

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I hope people in Northern Ireland and Ireland will see the UK Government is determined to protect the unique arrangements between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the wider relationship between the UK and Ireland. Protecting your citizenship rights, and protecting the Belfast Agreement, are at the heart of our approach.

On the citizenship rights guaranteed by the Belfast Agreement, our position is clear. Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom, but it is also the permanent birthright of the people of Northern Ireland to hold both British and Irish citizenship.

This will remain the case, and people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will remain EU citizens. The UK wants this guarantee confirmed alongside the other aspects of the Belfast Agreement as part of our withdrawal agreement with the EU.

We also want the EU funding that has helped victims of the Troubles and cross-community groups to continue at least until the current programme finishes.

We then want to go further, and explore a potential future programme of peace funding after we leave the EU.

This will need to be agreed between the EU, along with the UK and Irish Governments, but I have always said that as part of the deep and special partnership I want to negotiate between the UK and the EU, there may be specific and valuable EU programmes for which we want to agree the continuation of funding. Peace funding in Northern Ireland is one of them.

For those concerned about freedom of movement across Northern Ireland and Ireland, our proposal is clear: we want to maintain the reciprocal arrangements for the Common Travel Area and all the rights for our citizens that have existed in some form since 1922.

It allows British and Irish people to move freely across our islands, and is at the core of the deep social, cultural and economic ties that link us together.

It goes beyond just the ability to move between our islands without passport controls, and also means guaranteeing continuing rights for UK and Irish nationals to work and access public services.

We believe it is inconceivable that it could change, and we believe that can be agreed early in the talks.

Of course making sure the border remains as seamless as possible isn’t just about free movement of people. We need to ensure there is no hard border enforced on the movement of goods.

While the UK will no longer be a member of the EU customs union, we have set out plans in this week’s paper on customs to seek a deal that allows for the most seamless possible movement of goods between the UK and EU.

This is especially important for the movement of goods, not least in relation to agriculture. As Michel Barnier has said, we will need an unprecedented approach for the border here, and this will mean careful work and imaginative approaches but today we set out our key principles.

The first of those principles is stark: there should be no physical border infrastructure of any kind on either side of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I want people to be absolutely clear: the UK does not want to see border posts for any purpose.

There are other vital issues we want to address: preserving North-South and East-West cooperation, and making sure the all-Ireland energy market is protected. All of this work only underlines the importance of getting the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running. That is an urgent goal for me and Secretary of State James Brokenshire. And it is one the Irish Government shares.

Today I want to reassure everyone in Northern Ireland, that the UK leaving the EU will not jeopardise things you value profoundly.

Your citizenship rights are permanent and inviolable; you will be able to work and live in Northern Ireland and Ireland exactly as now on a reciprocal basis; and we do not want any border posts between Ireland and the UK.

In addition, there can be no question of imposing a new customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That would be totally unacceptable to the UK Government.

I am determined to deliver a good Brexit deal for the whole UK, and my first priority is protecting the unique and special relationship between the UK and Ireland.

No one would pretend our history has always been smooth, but as the UK begins a new chapter, it will not mean turning our back on the historic progress that has been made within Northern Ireland, and across these islands.

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