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First Minister Arlene Foster praises Theresa May's Brexit commitments

Arlene Foster said she is encouraged by Theresa May's attitude to the north

FIRST Minister Arlene Foster has said she is "encouraged" by Theresa May's attitude to the north and believes the prime minister is "engaged" in regards to concerns surrounding the post-Brexit border.

The DUP leader was speaking after she and deputy leader Nigel Dodds met Mrs May at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday.

Mrs Foster had earlier told a breakfast-time event at the conference that she did not wish to see border controls when the UK leaves the EU.

"I do not wish to see a hard border with the Republic of Ireland," the DUP leader said.

"If we didn't have a Donald Trump-style wall during the Troubles, I think that it's very hard to make that case now."

Speaking after a 30-minute meeting with the British prime minister, the DUP leader said Mrs May was "engaged" on concerns about a hardening of the border post-Brexit.

She also welcomed the prime minister commitment to uphold the union.

"I am really encouraged by the fact that she has, in every major speech that she has made this far, talked about the United Kingdom and the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom," she said.

"So, those people who say she is not interested in Northern Ireland and we are only bit part players could not be further from the truth."

Mrs Foster's comments came as it emerged that a series of anti-Brexit protests will take place along the border on Saturday.

Organised by Border Communities Against Brexit, the six rallies will highlight the negative impact of the UK's departure from the EU.

A spokesman for the group - who said it represented businesses, community groups and households close to the border - said those behind the protests supported continued membership of the EU.

"The people of the north voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and that will be the key message at each of Saturday's demonstrations," he said.

"We represent the people and communities who will be most adversely affected by Brexit and we don't intend to take it lying down."

The spokesman said that there would be "white line protests" at six border locations – Carrickcarnon between Newry and Dundalk; Moybridge on the Monaghan-Tyrone border; the Strabane-Lifford border crossing; Bridgend in Derry, and two separate protests at the Belcoo-Blacklion bridge and Agahalane, both on the Fermanagh-Cavan border.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has vowed that the north's interests will be protected when the UK leaves the EU.

Making his first speech at a Conservative party conference since succeeding Theresa Villiers in June, Mr Brokenshire said he had no doubt that Northern Ireland "can and will" make a success of Brexit.

He also insisted the British government remains determined to protect the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the wake of EU withdrawal.

"Building a Northern Ireland that works for everyone also means making a success of the UK's democratic decision to leave the European Union. And I am in no doubt that we can and will," he said.

"Northern Ireland has some world-beating businesses, a hugely talented workforce and a great, entrepreneurial spirit."

On the border with the Republic, he said: "We will work to ensure that Northern Ireland's unique interests are protected and advanced.

"That's particularly the case when it comes to the land border with the Republic of Ireland and the Common Travel Area which has served the UK and Ireland well for many decades."

However, Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said Mr Brokenshire and the British government were in denial over the outcome of June's referendum.

He said there was "no so-called ‘UnIted Kingdom’ position on leaving the EU".

"Scotland, Gibraltar and the north voted to remain and Brokenshire and his cabinet colleagues need to wake up to that reality," the former Stormont education minister said.

"If democracy means anything to the Tories they have to stop pretending they can simply ignore the devolved institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and the majority here who voted to stay in the EU."

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