Northern Ireland

Theresa May on NI post-Brexit: 'No-one wants return to borders of the past'

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Media captionNobody wants to return to the borders of past says Prime Minister

Theresa May has said that "nobody wants to return to the borders of the past" during her visit to Northern Ireland.

Mrs May met Stormont's first and deputy first ministers on Monday. It is her first visit to NI as prime minister.

She spent about 90 minutes at Stormont Castle.

Mrs May said her talks with Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness had concentrated on the impact of the Brexit vote, and had been "very constructive, positive".

"If you look ahead, what is going to happen when the UK leaves the European Union is that of course Northern Ireland will have a border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain a member of the European Union," said Mrs May.

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Image caption Theresa May was welcomed at Stormont Castle by Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers

"But we've had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union.

"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 and deliver a practical solution for everybody - as part of the work that we are doing to ensure that we make a success of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union - and that we come out of this with a deal which is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom."

Mrs May has visited Northern Ireland before, most recently as home secretary when she campaigned for a Remain vote in last month's EU referendum.

Her first journey to Belfast as prime minister since taking over from David Cameron 12 days ago, follows similar meetings in Scotland and Wales, and in a statement before the visit she said she was "delighted to be visiting Northern Ireland".

When she was home secretary, Mrs May warned it was "inconceivable" that border arrangements with the Republic of Ireland would be unchanged by a Brexit vote.

Analysis

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By Gareth Gordon, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

The prime minister came to Belfast emphasising her strong personal commitment to serving all the people of the UK.

But, at Stormont Castle, she came face to face with the divisions opened up by the decision to quit the European Union.

Speaking ahead of Monday's visit, Theresa May said she had been clear the government would make a success of the UK's departure from the EU. She said that meant it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic.

If she didn't know it before, she would have quickly realised that a solution which pleases everyone will be very hard to come by in a place which, along with Scotland, voted to remain inside the EU.

Although the UK voted to leave the European Union, 56% of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Mr McGuinness said he spoke for Northern Ireland on the issue.

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Media captionMartin McGuinness and Arlene Foster disagreed on the way forward after the Brexit talks

"Arlene and I are agreed on many other things in relation to [the] Fresh Start [agreement] and moving forward and we obviously continue to do it on all of those issues," he said.

"On the issue of Brexit, I speak for the people of the north and the people of the north who are unionists, nationalists and republicans made it clear that they see their future in Europe."

However, Mrs Foster said politicians had to work for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"We all know that there was an election in May of this year and the Democratic Unionist Party, as a result of that, has 38 members [of the assembly] and he [Mr McGuinness and Sinn Féin] has 28 members, so I think that jointly we speak for the people of Northern Ireland together," she said.

"We should be looking to achieve what is best for all the people of Northern Ireland and not try to make political point scoring out of what has occurred."

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