New NI Sec says ‘no’ to Border’s return

New Northern Irish Secretary James Brokenshire borders

But Brokenshire can’t see how Northern Ireland can possibly stay in the EU

Britain’s new Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire – does not want to see a return of a ‘hard border’ between the North and the Republic. Mr. Brokenshire, who favoured Remain in last month’s referendum, served in the Home Office with Home Secretary Theresa May before she became Prime Minister last week.

He had responsibility for sensitive subjects like security, migration and border security and was considered to be Mrs May’s right-hand man in a government department fraught with political minefields. During the Referendum campaign Theresa May – who described herself as a ‘reluctant Remainer’ – said a vote for Brexit would inevitably see the return of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Speaking on his first visit to Northern Ireland as NI Sec on Monday he said it is difficult to see how Northern Ireland and Scotland can remain in the EU. His first official engagement was at Belfast City Hall where he signed a book of condolence for the victims of the lorry attack in Nice. He said he had constructive discussions already with the Irish government and both governments are opposed to the return of a hard Border.

Last week, shortly after his appointment, he said: “We certainly don’t want to see a return to the Border of the past. We don’t want to see that hard Border coming into place and I think there is a real sense of commitment between the UK government and also the Irish government to work together very closely so we don’t see that returning.”

Echoing Prime Minister May’s declaration that “Brexit means Brexit”, Mr Brokenshire said: “We need to respect the view from across the United Kingdom that the UK should leave the European Union and to get the best possible arrangements for Northern Ireland – that’s the key part of my role.”

He said he was confident that the right of EU citizens – including Irish nationals – to remain in the UK would be protected so long as other EU countries respected the residency rights of British nationals in their countries. Meanwhile some European citizens may not be allowed to stay in the UK after it leaves the EU, Brexit Secretary David Davis said last week-end. The Eurosceptic appointed by new Prime Minister Theresa May to head a Whitehall Department dedicated to negotiating Brexit, said he wants “a generous settlement for EU migrants here now and a generous settlement for British citizens in the EU.”

It was not realistic to suggest the three million EU nationals living and working in Britain would have to leave. But, he said, said if there was a surge of EU nationals arriving in the UK before the Brexit deadline, the government may have to set a cutoff date.

“We may have to say that the right to indefinite leave to remain protection only applies before a certain date but you have to make those judgments on reality, not speculation.”

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