Theresa May will explore potential for post-Brexit peace funds targeting north

Theresa May said customs checks between the north and Britain would be 'totally unacceptable'. Picture by Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Theresa May has said Britain will consider matching the hundreds-of-millions of pounds of EU structural funds previously committed to the north under PEACE and other Brussels-backed programmes.

The Prime Minister said after Brexit her government wanted to continue to fund "specific and valuable EU programmes" targetting Northern Ireland.

Over the past 22 years, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has provided more than €1.5 billion (£1.36) in funding for projects in Northern Ireland and the Republic's border counties.

Writing today in The Irish News, Mrs May said she wants EU funding for Troubles' victims and cross-community groups to continue "at least until the current programme finishes" in 2020.

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"We then want to go further, and explore a potential future programme of peace funding after we leave the EU," she said.

The prime minister said the details would be agreed "between the EU, along with the UK and Irish governments".

"... but I have always said that as part of the deep and special partnership I want to negotiate between the UK and the EU, there may be specific and valuable EU programmes for which we want to agree the continuation of funding – peace funding in Northern Ireland is one of them," Mrs May said.

The prime minister has also pledged to preserve the "unique arrangements" that enable people to move freely between the north and the Republic, and between Ireland and Britain.

"No one voted to end the special ties between the UK and Ireland or to undermine the unique arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland which have underpinned the peace process and have been in place well before our membership of the EU," she said.

Mrs May said today's British government's proposals on how the post-Brexit border will operate would meet the concerns of people worried about their ability to move freely across Ireland.

She has also sought to give assurances that protecting northern nationalists' citizenship rights and protecting the Belfast Agreement, are "at the heart" of her government's approach.

While the prime minister insists that the north "remains an integral part of the United Kingdom" she also acknowledges that it is the "permanent birthright" of people in the region to hold both British and Irish citizenship.

"This will remain the case, and people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will remain EU citizens," said Mrs May.

"The UK wants this guarantee confirmed alongside the other aspects of the Belfast Agreement as part of our withdrawal agreement with the EU."

Mrs May said the UK proposals are clear – "we want to maintain the reciprocal arrangements for the Common Travel Area and all the rights for our citizens that have existed in some form since 1922".

"We believe it is inconceivable that it could change, and we believe that can be agreed early in the talks," she said.

The Tory leader said ensuring the border is "as seamless as possible" does not only relate to people.

"We need to ensure there is no hard border enforced on the movement of goods," she said.

"While the UK will no longer be a member of the EU customs union, we have set out plans in this week’s paper on customs to seek a deal that allows for the most seamless possible movement of goods between the UK and EU."

Mrs May said the free movement of goods was especially important for agriculture

She has reiterated her government's desire for "no physical border infrastructure of any kind" between north and south but also said a customs border between Northern Ireland and Britain would be "totally unacceptable".

"I am determined to deliver a good Brexit deal for the whole UK, and my first priority is protecting the unique and special relationship between the UK and Ireland," Mrs May said.

"No one would pretend our history has always been smooth, but as the UK begins a new chapter, it will not mean turning our back on the historic progress that has been made within Northern Ireland, and across these islands."

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