Northern Ireland news

David Davis: Brexit secretary visits border for first time (but fails to tell the press)

Middletown Centre for Autism chief executive Gary Cooper and Brexit secretary David Davis

TORY MP David Davis made his first visit to the border yesterday - 20 months after he was appointed as Brexit secretary.

Mr Davis visited several border areas in Co Armagh as part of a low-key two-hour trip.

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

This morning, however, Mr Davis apologised for not telling politicians here about his border trip.

Neither the DUP or Sinn Féin's local MP Mickey Brady were told about the visit.

The Department for Exiting the European Union said failure to inform Mr Brady was "an administrative oversight for which we are happy to apologise."

Mr Brady tweeted last night: "David Davis visits the Border but avoids meeting me as local MP. Obviously afraid to face the truth about Brexit."

Mr Davis travelled with Co-operation Ireland chief executive Peter Sheridan to view a disused customs post in Middletown, an autism centre in the village and food processing company Linwoods in Armagh.

Following the trip he suggested a Brexit deal on the border would be agreed by October - the deadline for concluding the UK's withdrawal agreement from the EU.

"Today I started what promises to be a busy week in Northern Ireland," he 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."

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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