Theresa Villiers dismisses special status for north and second referendum

Theresa Villiers has ruled out special status for Northern Ireland when the UK leaves the EU. Picture by David Young/PA Wire

THE secretary of state has sought to quell speculation that Northern Ireland and Scotland could enjoy some form of special EU status after the British government severs ties with Brussels.

Theresa Villiers rubbished the notion that the two regions which recorded a majority Remain vote could have a relationship with Europe distinct from England and Wales.

The Irish News reported yesterday that efforts have begun to create a united front among pro-EU parties at Stormont, whose ultimate goal would be continued membership for the north.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness invited the SDLP, Ulster Unionist and Alliance leaders to a meeting on Monday where they began formulating a concerted response to the Leave camp's shock referendum victory.

But the secretary of state, who was one of the key figures in the Leave campaign, insisted the UK would be treated as "one nation" in negotiations with the EU.

"EU rules are very clear, membership is at member state level," she said.

"It's a national question, it's not possible within EU rules to have a part of a country being part of the European Union."

Her remarks came as Scotland's first minister held a series of meetings with senior EU officials in Brussels.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has has raised the possibility of a second independence referendum and said all potential options for keeping Scotland in the single market would be explored.

However, both the French president and Spanish prime minister said they would be opposed to the EU negotiating potential membership for Scotland.

Ms Villiers also said the "decision has been made" and the people of the UK had voted for Brexit.

She said "particular interests" in the north, including its border arrangements with the Republic, would need to be protected in the negotiations.

"It's clear both governments want to keep an open border – I believe in those circumstances it's going to be deliverable," she said.

"It will take some common sense, it will take some negotiation, but it's not rational for the European Union to want to block something which is in the interests of one of its remaining member states – ie Ireland."

Ms Villiers also reiterated her belief that the criteria for calling a border poll had not been met and ruled out the possibility of a second UK-wide referendum that would enable the public to endorse a post-Brexit settlement.

The idea of a second vote was floated by Ms Villiers's eurosceptic ally and Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings, who earlier this year said there was a "strong democratic case" for following-up last week's referendum with a further poll.

Mr Cummings, a confidante and former adviser to former Tory minister Michael Gove, said that if the first result was in favour of leaving the EU, then David Cameron's successor could offer a second referendum.

The Irish News contacted Mr Cummings to discuss the proposal but he declined to comment.

Notably, in addition to Ms Villiers, the SDLP has dismissed the possibility of a second vote.

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