Northern Ireland news

Theresa May visits Bangor farm

 Prime Minister Theresa May is shown around Fairview Farm by Susanne Jackson and her three daughters Hannah, Abbie and Emily in Bangor during a tour of the four nations of the UK, with a promise to keep the country united one year before Brexit.
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

British Prime Minister Theresa May visited a dairy farm owned by the Jackson family in Bangor, Co Down, on the third leg of her whistle-stop tour of the United Kingdom to mark a year until Brexit.

Mrs May was shown around Fairview Farm by owners Stephen and Susanne Jackson and their three daughters Hannah, Abbie and Emily in Bangor.

Sitting down for lunch in the farmhouse with representatives of the Ulster Farmers' Union, she heard of concerns within the agriculture industry about Brexit's potential to impact on the free flow of goods across the Irish border.

Farmers' representatives also stressed that they did not want a new border created in the Irish sea, obstructing important trade links with Great Britain.

On her visit to the farm between Belfast and Bangor Mrs May was pressed on why she had not taken the opportunity to visit communities closer to the Irish border, given the acute concern held by many in that area about Brexit.

"I absolutely understand how important this issue is for people generally in Northern Ireland but obviously particularly for those who are living close to, and in some cases, may have homes that are across the border," she said.

The prime minister declined to give a commitment to visit the border before the UK leave the EU.

When asked by the Press Association whether she would be prepared to go to the border in the next 12 months and see for herself the potential issues concerning people, Mrs May replied: "My diary over the next year hasn't yet been set, but all I am saying is I understand.

"I think it's not a question of just whether I actually go and stand on the border, it's a question of do I understand the impact that has for people?

"What I am doing here today is actually listening to farmers here in Northern Ireland.

"Listening to representatives of the agri-food industry, hearing what they want to see coming out of Brexit, what are the opportunities for Northern Ireland in the future.

"That's what I have been doing."

Mrs May told the farmers Brexit presented opportunities.

"I think one of the things that will come out of Brexit is the opportunity for agriculture here but across the UK to really - out of the CAP (EU's Common Agricultural Policy) - to set our own way of doing things," she said.

 Prime Minister Theresa May having lunch with farmers at Fairview Farm in Bangor, Northern Ireland during a tour of the four nations of the UK, with a promise to keep the country united one year before Brexit. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

She told fellow guests at the lunch that on a recent visit to China she had learned of potential opportunities for milk exporters in the UK.

"There's lot of opportunities to find ways of doing these things," Mrs May said.

The prime minister added: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to ensure that free flow."

Earlier, the PM called on Britons to "come together" to seize the "great opportunities" she expects as a result of EU withdrawal.

Mrs May said additional money will be available to spend on priorities like the NHS and schools once Britain is no longer sending "vast sums" annually to Brussels.

But, in a BBC interview, she steered clear of repeating Boris Johnson's term "Brexit dividend" and twice ducked the question of whether she believes Brexit will be "worth it".

"I think there are real opportunities for the United Kingdom," she told interviewer Laura Kuenssberg.

"I think it's a bright future out there. And yes, I think Brexit is going to deliver a country that will be different, but I think there are real opportunities for us as an independent nation for the future."

Speaking earlier in the day to LBC radio, Mrs May said she was "looking forward" to Brexit day on March 29 2019.

"Yes, I am looking forward to it because it presents great opportunities for the United Kingdom," she said.

The prime minister kicked off her tour with a visit to a textile company in Ayr, before attending a mother and toddler group in Newcastle and taking lunch with farmers near Belfast.

She was later due to go on to Barry in south Wales for a round-table discussion with businesses, before completing her tour in west London with a group of Polish citizens who have made the UK their home.

Mrs May's all-day plane trip comes amid polling suggesting the UK remains deeply divided over Brexit, but has little appetite for a second referendum on the issue.

One survey this week recorded a 53%-47% lead for continued EU membership. But 65% in a new ComRes poll for the Daily Express said they did not want a second referendum and 68% said that Remain voters should respect the will of the majority who backed Brexit.

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused the Government of being in "chaos" over Brexit, following a series of defeats in the House of Lords on its flagship EU Withdrawal Bill.

Mr McDonnell played down suggestions from Emily Thornberry that Labour would "probably" support the deal obtained by Mrs May in a Commons vote this autumn, saying that the shadow foreign secretary was being "sarcastic".

Former prime minister Tony Blair urged Mrs May to offer a free vote in the Commons on the final Brexit deal, telling the Independent that if she did not, Labour and Tory MPs should be ready to vote with their conscience and rebel.

And Mr Blair told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "more likely we can stop (Brexit) now than it was a few months ago".

Scottish National Party spokesman Michael Russell accused Mrs May of planning a "power grab" by repatriating some responsibilities currently exercised in Brussels to Westminster rather than Edinburgh.

"By pursuing a disastrous hard Brexit, regardless of the cost to jobs and living standards, Theresa May and the Tories have shown they think they can now do anything to Scotland and get away with it," said Mr Russell.

But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that "a glorious view awaits" Britain when it finally quits the EU.

Writing in the Express, Mr Johnson said: "Like an unstoppable express, we are heading for Brexit and frankly, my friends, we can't arrive soon enough."

Speaking in Ayr, Mrs May said: "I believe we can negotiate a good agreement which is tariff-free and as frictionless trade as possible, so we maintain those markets in the EU, but also that we open up markets around the rest of the world.

"Brexit provides us with opportunities. I want to see us coming together, the four nations across the United Kingdom.

"We have a very strong union, that is in our interests and it is in our interests to come together and really seize these opportunities for the future."

Prime Minister Theresa May is shown around Fairview Farm by owners Stephen and Susanne Jackson and their three daughters Hannah, Abbie and Emily  in Bangor, Northern Ireland during a tour of the four nations of the UK, with a promise to keep the country united one year before Brexit. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

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