Brexit: Special Status for Northern Ireland

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 24th January 2017

T5. Ms Mallon asked the Minister for the Economy, given the hard Brexit stance being taken by the Conservative Prime Minister, to state whether he accepts that the case must be made for special status for Northern Ireland and whether he accepts that, to date, his party has got it wrong and needs to urgently reassess its position on Brexit. (AQT 700/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Member, unfortunately, has once again proven how her party has not accepted the result and the verdict of the British people. I welcome the clarity that the Prime Minister has brought to our negotiating position. I think that there was some doubt for some time as to what she was going to do or what she was going to seek, and it is now very clear what her objectives are.

I will repeat what I said in response to Mrs Overend. I think that Northern Ireland, hampered as it is by the circumstances that we find ourselves in, will and should continue to seek a deal that reflects the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland and where it is located has a particular history and a particular geography that must be reflected, I believe, in any ultimate deal. It is regrettable that, for a while at least, the Northern Ireland voice will not be heard as clearly as it should be at a critical time in those negotiations. It is unfortunate that that is the case. As I said before, Northern Ireland's voice has been heard loudly and clearly, and Northern Ireland's interests have been heard loudly and clearly over the last number of months. I think that it is well understood by the Prime Minister and her team what those particular circumstances are and what the unique history and geography of this part of the world are. I hope that that will be reflected in any ultimate deal, and I also think that that is being viewed very sympathetically in Brussels.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 24th January 2017

Given that the now former First Minister, given the current political context, Arlene Foster, has previously outlined the need for the free movement of labour, how is this compatible with the position articulated by the Prime Minister, Theresa May?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Prime Minister has outlined her objectives in respect of negotiations. The former First Minister and, indeed, others in the House have emphasised the need to have the common travel area remain in place. It is welcome that one of the 10 points that the Prime Minister pointed out last week was to maintain the common travel area, which has existed since the 1920s, between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

There is still much to do and many miles to travel on the road to the UK exiting the European Union. I am confident that, with the work that has been done to date, Northern Ireland's voice, the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and the unique history and geography of this part of the world have been heard loudly and clearly in London. I hope that, in spite of the circumstances that we find ourselves in at this critical time that mean that our voice will not be heard perhaps as clearly as it should be, those representations that have been made to date will still be heard and be listened to and will be reflected in the upcoming negotiations.