Theresa May's responses to readers' questions are indicative of approach to Brexit, SDLP claims

Theresa May pledged there would be 'no checks' on people travelling across the Irish border after Brexit. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THERESA May's responses to questions about Brexit posed by readers of The Irish News lacked direction and detail, according to the leader of the SDLP.

Colum Eastwood was speaking after the prime minister yesterday answered eight questions on the UK's departure from the EU.

The Tory leader insisted there would be "no checks" on people travelling across the Irish border after Brexit and that movement between north and south will "continue to be seamless".

Notably, however, Mrs May does not defend her Brexit Secretary David Davis, who unlike his EU counterparts has not visited the border region and has only been to Northern Ireland once since the June 2016 referendum.

The questions pitched by readers, in an exercise unprecedented for a newspaper in Ireland, addressed many aspects of Brexit including cross-border trade and travel, the potential for a second referendum, and an apparent surge in support for Irish unity as a consequence of last year's EU referendum.

But Mr Eastwood argued that Mrs May's answers were indicative of her government's approach to Brexit.

"Just as the SDLP has long argued, the border issue demands a response and not just meaningless mantra on 'frictionless' and 'seamless', moreover, we are clear that Brexit does not just cause concerns for trade on this island but it completely challenges our way of life," he said.

"While it's welcome that Theresa May used the opportunity to engage with Irish News readers, it would be more helpful if she actually would take the time to listen to the will of the people of the north."

Manufacturing NI (MNI) chief executive Stephen Kelly said his organisation had paid particular attention to the prime minister's response to a question from Kieran Kennedy, managing director of Strabane-based sportswear manufacturer O'Neills.

The Co Tyrone businessman told the prime minister that his company's raw materials sometimes crossed the border up to eight times before a product is completed.

He was seeking guarantees that there would be no customs checks impeding his business.

While the Tory leader said she was committed to "avoiding any new barriers", Mr Kennedy was not persuaded by the response.

Mr Kelly said a survey of MNI members had shown that almost three-quarters of manufacturers believed Brexit will have a negative impact on their business – regardless of a deal.

"It is clear that efforts to convince business that the UK outside of the EU will prosper have so far failed," the chief executive said.

"We all hoped that after the phase one political agreement that we would move away from simply talking about ambition to firm, bankable commitments but phrases like 'want to' and 'we will look to' continue to offer little more than hope for Kieran and the rest of the manufacturing sector who want to see no delay nor additional cost and complexity to their trade north-south or east-west."

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