Concerns raised after PM’s ‘Hard Brexit’ statement

January 23, 2017

Last week’s Brexit statement by British Prime Minister Theresa May, which outlined her priorities for Brexit negotiations, has prompted major concerns among the local business community and political representatives.

During her speech, the PM announced that the UK will not remain within the European single market, as staying in the single market  would mean “not leaving the EU at all,” but she promised to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU which gives the UK the widest possible access for trading with and operating within the EU and which, she insists, should not lead to a “border of the past” for Northern Ireland.

Newry & Armagh Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy described Mrs May’s statement as evidence that the British state is “set on course for a so-called Hard Brexit.” Mr Murphy said he shares the major concerns of most living  in the Newry & Armagh constituency and along the border corridor and throughout Ireland about the consequences of such a strategy.

The Sinn Féin elected representative also expressed his concern at the impact on the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement by the PM’s commitment to end the role of the European Court.

“The economic and political implications of this for the people of this island are significant,” said Mr Murphy.

“The British Prime Minister provided no new information about Britain’s approach to the North in respect of Brexit; no willingness to look at a special designated status for the North within the EU; no real role for the devolved governments in the negotiations; and old rhetoric on the future of the Common Travel Area.

The Sinn Fein MLA added that the PM’s comments on the future of the Common Travel Area “contained no new detail” and that the future of the border and any arrangements with the island of Ireland had been set within the context of Britain’s determination to control immigration and defend its borders – something he said could not be accomplished “without significant changes to the current border arrangements.

Mr Murphy maintained that the British Prime Minister had “ignored” the fact that voters in the North had voted to remain in the EU and he highlighted her repeated intention to bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court.

“Along with her commitment to remove Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights this will have profound implications for the Good Friday Agreement. The role of the European Court and Convention are fundamental to the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement.”

The Sinn Fein MLA also slammed the DUP for “betraying the electorate in the North on Brexit.”

“The imposition of Brexit, against the will of the people, will impact on our economy and on our community. It was the duty of the First Minister to uphold the wishes of the people of the North to remain within the EU.

“Instead of accepting that mandate she chose to join with the little Englanders of UKIP and the Conservative Party,” he said, adding that his party would continue to engage with the Irish government and others in the EU to secure a special designated status for the North within the EU.

The Newry Chamber of Commerce has also expressed its concerns about the loss of access to the single market, as confirmed by the Prime Minister in her Brexit speech.

Mary Meehan, Chief Executive of Newry Chamber of Commerce, asked what measures would be taken to control the transport of goods and movement of people across the border every day.

She said “At a time, when many companies are already struggling with the rising cost of euro imports, how well will they then be able to absorb any increase in tariffs in a post EU environment given that the EU is our largest export market and exports to the Republic of Ireland account for 37% of overall exports to the EU?”

President of Newry Chamber of Commerce, Michael McKeown said the Chamber had heard evidence from a range of its membership base on the implications of Brexit and that it had also lobbied extensively to politicians on both sides of the border to ensure the voice of the business community is heard.

“It is clear from the initial evidence that access to the single market is the preference of most of our members – meaning free movement of goods, services, people and capital,” said Mr McKeown.

“However, The Prime Minister, Theresa May has confirmed that the UK has foregone single market access to take back control of borders.   What that might look like and how that will translate in practice on the ground in our unique location on the border with the Republic of Ireland remains a mystery and a huge concern.

“Newry Chamber will continue to work with our members on the ground to provide business support, information, lobbying and representation to prioritise the interests of our members.”