Northern Ireland news

James Brokenshire reassures Dublin on keeping border open

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan meeting Secretary of State James Brokenshire at Iveagh Hose in Dublin. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association
Brian Hutton, Press Association

SECRETARY of State James Brokenshire said he believes an agreement can be reached on movement over the Irish border after the UK leaves the EU.

The fate of the border has been plunged into uncertainty since June's referendum result, with fears for the peace process and economy.

Speaking ahead of talks with the Republic's Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan in Dublin on Tuesday, the Secretary of State refused to be drawn on whether the UK will also pull out of the EU customs union - which many observers say will force the return of a hard border.

But he suggested a solution could be created around the common travel area, a decades-old agreement between both countries which allows Irish and British citizens to cross internal borders without controls.

"No decisions have been taken in relation to the customs union," he said.

"I would stress that really strong will, that strong commitment, on the UK Government's part, working with the Government of Ireland, to see that we do create that solution around the common travel area."

Mr Flanagan has already said the Republic is cautious of British reassurances there will be no return to a hard border after Brexit.

He has said he was "taken aback" by reports that British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is pressurising Prime Minister Theresa May into leaving the European customs union as well as the EU.

Insisting the border must remain "invisible", he warned unemployment black-spots that straddle the frontier - including Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, Sligo and Leitrim - would be worst hit by a return to border controls.

"It is absolutely essential in my mind that these unique circumstances are taken into consideration, and in this context any return to borders of the past or any imposition of a hard border would adversely impact on the livelihoods of communities in these areas - both north and south," he said.

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