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Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions from eight Irish News readers

Katie Moore

1. When the full economic, environmental and cultural implications of leaving the EU become clear, in early 2019, will the nations of the UK be trusted with a referendum? Patrick Harris, Kilkeel, Co Down.

 

It is important that as Prime Minister, I respect the decision of the people of the UK as a whole who voted to leave the European Union. That is why I have always said there will be no second referendum.

 

At the same time, I fully recognise the decision has caused people on both sides of the border to feel uncertain about what Brexit means for them, their family, friends and businesses.

 

Patrick, I hope you will have seen that I take these concerns very seriously and finding solutions that address Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances has been a priority for me since the start of the negotiations.

 

This includes ruling out any kind of hard border, protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and preserving the Common Travel Area and reciprocal rights for UK and Irish nationals. I worked closely with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to ensure we reached this outcome.

 

I am determined to deliver the best Brexit deal for all parts of the UK and I want to assure you that the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland are at the heart of this.

2. As a student from Northern Ireland who commutes using cross border rail services on a daily basis to attend university in the Republic, my question to the Prime Minister is – Will my journey continue to be seamless or will it be encumbered with border checks post-Brexit? Katie Moore, Lurgan, Co. Armagh.

 

Yes, Katie, your journey will continue to be seamless and there will be no border checks. You will be aware that this issue has been central to our discussions with the EU and was enshrined in the agreement last week to move to the next phase of negotiations.

 

There were 1.2 million journeys made across the border on public transport last year and I do not want this ease of movement to change for you or anyone else.

 

For years, people on both sides of the border, have been able to go to school, work, visit their families and at this time of year – do their Christmas shopping.

 

But I know this is about more than just travel. It is also about the deep cultural and symbolic bonds of identity for Irish and British citizens who live on either side of the border that is rooted in generations of family history. I want you to know these rights will be protected.

 

I am confident we can keep moving forward together with a new, deep and special partnership with the EU - one in which everyone in Northern Ireland will continue to live in peace and prosperity.

 

3. Why has David Davis not bothered to visit any of the border communities in Northern Ireland, and what does this say about his interest and capacity to continue as Brexit Secretary? John Austin, Limavady, County Derry.

 

I can assure you John, that I and all of the Ministers in the UK Government, including David Davis, are fully committed to listening to the views of the border communities and their very real concerns about the impact of Brexit on their daily lives.

 

The Brexit Secretary is focused on the vital task of finding a solution to the border that works for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. We want to listen and respond to the views of people who live and work on the border.

UK Government ministers, officials and our UK ambassador to Ireland have been engaging intensively with people, businesses and communities across Ireland and Northern Ireland. We have also been attending and listening to Brexit forums for border communities, have met CEOs of border County Councils and continue to engage closely with the Irish Government and the EU Commission on this vital issue.

We will continue to listen to views of all communities in Northern Ireland as we move forward to secure the best possible deal for everyone in Northern Ireland and across all of the UK.

 

4. Do you accept that any hardening of the border will drive increasing numbers of moderates here, regardless of political persuasion, to vote for re-unification of Ireland in the event of a border poll? Eamon Cassidy, Omagh, Co Tyrone.

I recognise this is a deeply emotive issue for many people in all communities in Northern Ireland. That’s why I want to assure you, Eamon, there will be no hard border or physical infrastructure at the border. From the start of this process, the UK Government has put Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances at the forefront of the negotiations.

My Government is signed up to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and nothing will undermine our steadfast commitment to it, including the principle of consent.

 

In that agreement it was clearly stated that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so unless a majority of people in Northern Ireland wish otherwise.

The people of Northern Ireland will be able to continue to identify as British or Irish, or both, as guaranteed by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. We have also committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area and protecting the rights enjoyed by British and Irish citizens. This means there will be no border checks for individuals crossing the border. Rights to work, study, access social security will be preserved on a reciprocal basis.

5. Dear Theresa, as a company employing over 600 people, which is situated in the north west of Ireland, one mile from the border, we are very concerned with the impact of Brexit. We have a very integrated supply chain, which can involve parts of our garments being transported across the border up to eight times before reaching the end customer. It’s difficult to understand how any guarantees can be provided about the absence of physical borders or custom checkpoints, regardless of any proposed exemptions, unless a comprehensive customs agreement and single market access is delivered. To ensure there are no tariffs or duties applied, it is imperative that we remain in the Single Market and Customs Union. Could you please advise how you propose to deal with these issues Kieran Kennedy, Managing Director, O’Neills, Strabane, Co Tyrone.

 

I completely understand why this is an important issue for a business like yours, Kieran, and I can assure you that I want to see the trade and everyday movements over the land border continue as they do now.

The Taoiseach and I have committed to avoiding any new barriers - either North-South or East-West - and from the outset both the UK and Ireland have said that there should be no hard border.

When we leave the European Union the whole of the UK will be leaving the single market and the customs union, and the UK Government will seek to develop our own independent trade policy.

 

But I have also been very clear that we want to build a future partnership that allows for as free and frictionless trade between the UK and the EU as possible.

In the report we agreed with the European Commission earlier this month, I made clear that our preference is to ensure we achieve the solutions that we want for Northern Ireland as part of our overall relationship with the rest of the EU.

If we cannot do that we will look to agree specific solutions to address the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. Failing that, we have said the UK Government will ensure full alignment in those areas that are crucial to cross-border cooperation.

6. Why are you promoting Brexit if you don't personally believe in it and you genuinely think it could be bad for the country? Is power really that important to you? Sarah Hughes, South Belfast.

 

I was clear before the referendum that there were costs and benefits of our membership of the EU and that the country needed to weigh these up in making their decision.

 

The people of the UK did this and decided to leave the EU; and I believe it is important that their decision is respected.

 

As I said in my speech in Florence, I do not believe that this vote was rejection of the values we share with other Europeans. It was a vote for change and to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy. And it gives us an opportunity to forge a new path as a sovereign, outward-looking trading nation.

 

Sarah, I know the road ahead will feel uncertain for many people at times, but I believe that we can create a new partnership with the EU, which will lead to a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland and in all parts of the UK.

 

7. What would the Prime Minister see as indicators of a in successful Brexit for Northern Ireland and Ireland in five years time? Maire McGrath, Belfast.

 

What I want to see us achieve with Brexit, as I said at the very beginning of this year in my speech at Lancaster House is to make the UK stronger, fairer and more global.

 

We will do that by acting on what we heard from people during the referendum: that they wanted the UK Government to be in control of our borders, our laws and to stop paying vast sums to the European Union every year. We have started delivering this through the arrangements that were outlined in the joint report with the European Commission earlier this month and we will continue to be guided by this in the second phase of the negotiations.

 

So in five years’ time, Maire, I want to see the UK negotiating our own trade deals with countries around the world. And I want us to be able to spend taxpayers’ money on the priorities that we determine, such as schools, housing and the NHS.

Looking beyond Brexit and at some of my Government’s other priorities, such as the industrial strategy, I want us to be a country where there are opportunities for businesses to grow and for young people to find high-skilled jobs wherever they live.

 

In Northern Ireland specifically I want to see the huge progress that has been made in recent decades continue. And I want the UK and Ireland to remain the very closest of friends and neighbours.

 

 

8. Scenario post Brexit: A foreign national (from outside the EU) enters the EU and travels across Europe to Ireland, travels onto Belfast and wants to travel by boat to Scotland and then to England. Given the free movement of peoples across the island of Ireland, where will this person’s passport papers be checked to enable entry to Scotland? Eugene McGoldrick, Belfast.

 

In this scenario Eugene, this person’s travel documents will be checked on arrival in Ireland. That's because that's the first point of entry into the Common Travel Area - a special travel zone made up of Ireland, the UK, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

There aren't any immigration controls between Belfast and Scotland because this is a domestic route. And as I reaffirmed in Brussels, there will be no physical barriers east-west.

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