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Brexit Secretary David Davis under fire for failure to visit Irish border

Brexit Secretary David Davis has yet to visit the border. Picture by Mal McCann

BRITAIN'S Department for Exiting the EU last night defended its under-fire minister David Davis after he faced criticism for not visiting the Irish border.

Since taking the lead role in Brexit negotiations with the EU in July last year, Mr Davis has visited Northern Ireland just once.

Senior EU figures Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt have both visited the border region in recent months.

The Brexit secretary made a whistle-stop trip to the north in September 2016.

During his visit, he held a short meeting with business organisations before conducting a joint press conference with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

Read more: John Manley - Border-shy Brexit secretary needs to redeem himself fast (Premium)

At the press conference in Stormont House, Mr Davis rejected the notion that the business organisations who attended the meeting, none of which supported Brexit, were negative about the future prospects for trade.

When pressed by The Irish News on who at the meeting had identified any positive aspects in the outcome of June’s referendum, the minister declined to be specific, insisting it had been a private meeting, conducted confidentially.

Last night the Brexit secretary was accused of a "total abdication of responsibility" for his failure to visit the border any time since last year's EU referendum.

Mr Davis is already facing a crisis of confidence after being accused yesterday of misleading fellow MPs over his previous claim that the British government was carrying out analysis on the economic impact of Brexit.

The SDLP's Claire Hanna highlighted how Mr Davis had been in post for 17 months but visited the north only once.

"It’s little wonder that London has set us hurtling toward a hard Brexit if their only reference point for the experiences of people in Northern Ireland is 10 DUP MPs," the South Belfast representative said.

"It’s astounding that the minister responsible for organising Brexit hasn’t visited the area most affected by it in over a year – more than that – it’s a total abdication of responsibility to people, communities and businesses here."

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson said Mr Davis had failed to gauge Brexit's impact on jobs, trade, energy, and agriculture.

"David Davis has seldom visited the north and has no concept of the concerns of people living in border areas on Brexit – he can't simply ignore those concerns," she said.

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “We remain resolutely committed to finding a solution that works for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“A number of UK ministers including the secretary of state, minister Robin Walker and of course ministers from the Northern Ireland Office have met with individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland as part of the government’s wide ranging engagement programme on EU Exit.”

The spokesman said the department was also engaging closely with the Dublin government and the EU Commission on what it termed a “vital issue”.

Read more: John Manley - Border-shy Brexit secretary needs to redeem himself fast (Premium)

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