Northern Ireland news

Claire Hanna: David Davis visit nothing more than a box-ticking exercise

The SDLP's Claire Hanna, MLA for South Belfast and the party's Brexit spokesperson

SDLP Brexit Spokesperson Claire Hanna has branded a 'private visit' by David Davis to the Irish border yesterday as a 'box-ticking exercise'.

The Brexit department has apologised after David Davis made a 'surprise' visit to the Irish border but failed to tell local politicans or media.

The south Belfast MLA said: "A skeptic may say he wanted to duck and dive any questioning. Maybe the Minister is troubled that we might actually have asked him if he learned anything and how he plans to stop a hard border here when his Government continues to dig it’s heels in on the customs union.

“Ths visit was nothing more than a box ticking exercise.

"The border shouldn’t have just been an after thought months down the line but should have been a priority for the Brexit Minister. It’s clear for all of us to see that the priorities of the UK Government lay with keeping their own cabinet happy and keeping criticism from the DUP to a minimum, not with protecting the rights and economic interests of people in Northern Ireland."

The Brexit Secretary spent two hours near the border in Northern Ireland on Monday, but the trip drew criticism from Sinn Fein because the area's local MP was not informed.

Mickey Brady, MP for Newry and Armagh, accused Mr Davis of avoiding a meeting with him because he is "afraid to face the truth about Brexit".

A spokeswoman for the Government's Department for Exiting the European Union said of the lack of notification: "This was an administrative oversight for which we are happy to apologise."

The DUP were not given notice of the trip either but the spokeswoman said the Northern Ireland Office had been informed ahead of the visit.

Mr Brady's party colleague, West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, said Mr Davis had shown "contempt" for local politicians and not followed protocol in arranging the visit.

He tweeted: "Out of courtesy and protocol he should have informed you (Mickey Brady) as the local MP.

"Shows his contempt to locally elected representatives who know more about the impacts of Brexit than he will ever know."

Following the short trip, during which Mr Davis was escorted by former senior police officer and Cooperation Ireland chief executive Peter Sheridan, he reiterated the Government's determination to avoid a hard border on the island.

Mr Davis tweeted: "As we leave the EU it's essential both the UK and EU do what it takes to keep the border, which I saw this morning, free from physical infrastructure.

"We are determined to get this agreed by October."

As part of the trip Mr Davis visited an autism centre in Middletown in Co Armagh as well as a nearby food processing company.

He also saw a former customs post between counties Armagh and Monaghan.

No media were invited to what was described rather oddly as a "private visit".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had warned last week that if a border deal cannot be agreed by June, the British government may have to consider if a withdrawal deal is possible.

Mr Davis has previously faced criticism for not doing more to address how customs controls will operate at the border after Brexit.

Speaking after the tour, Mr Sheridan said the charity had previously assisted visits to the border.

“Since the referendum result, we have assisted both the UK and Irish Governments in receiving delegations to the border area," he said.

“In 2017 we accompanied European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union Michel Barnier on his visit to County Monaghan.

“In December, we brought the Exiting the European Union Select Committee to Middletown to view the border.”

Mr Sheridan said the visit gave Mr Davis a chance to see the border for himself.

“I pointed out the businesses based in Middletown who trade on both sides of the border before we visited the Middletown Centre for Autism which is jointly funded by the Department for Education in Northern Ireland and the Department for Education and Skills based in Dublin," he said.

“I was then able to show the Secretary of State the reality of the border and how it winds its way across the countryside.”


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