Theresa May: No return to the 'borders of the past' in Northern Ireland

Posted On: 
25th July 2016

There will be no “return to the borders of the past” in Ireland when the UK leaves the European Union, Theresa May has said on her first visit to the nation as Prime Minister. 

Arlene Foster, Theresa May and Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle in Belfast
Charles McQuillan/PA Wire

During the referendum, Mrs May was one of several leading Remain campaigners to warn that the existing travel arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic would need to change after Brexit.

After talks with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who has called for a referendum on Irish unification in light of the Brexit vote, Mrs May said she was committed to “find a way through” that would be acceptable to all parties.

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Speaking after her meeting in Belfast, Mrs May said: “Brexit means Brexit but we will be making a success of it and I’m clear that the Northern Ireland Executive and the other devolved governments will be involved in our discussions as we set forward the UK position.

“I recognise there’s a particular circumstance in Northern Ireland because of course it has a land border with a country, the Republic of Ireland, that will be remaining in the EU.

“But we’ve had constructive talks about the will that we all have to find a way through this which is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and in the best interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.”

She will host Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Downing Street tomorrow for further discussions, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman revealed this morning.

A majority of voters in Northern Ireland opted to stay in the EU, and Mrs May stressed that Brexit “must work” for the nation, and suggested that the current common travel area could remain.  

“We’ve had a common travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union,” she said.

“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past.

“What we do want to do is to find a way through this that is going to work, deliver a practical solution for everybody as part of the work we are doing to ensure that we make a success of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and we come out of this with a deal which is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Mrs May's visit today means she has now met the leaders of all the devolved administrations in her first fortnight as Prime Minister.