UK-Ireland border checks won’t return after Brexit, says May on first visit to Belfast as PM

© Clodagh Kilcoyne
Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out the return of border checks between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, despite Britain’s vote to leave the bloc.

The PM will reassure Northern Irish First Minister Arlene Foster on a visit to Belfast on Monday as part of a broader pledge to bolster the “bonds” between the nations of the UK.

May’s visit comes as regional politicians and interest groups prepare a legal challenge against the British government in the event it fails to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process when Britain leaves the EU.

Speaking ahead of the final leg of a trip to all four parts of the UK, May said she would work to ensure Northern Ireland remains a part of the country.

The PM underscored her commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, which is credited with bringing an end to the 30-year period known as ‘The Troubles’ by establishing a power-sharing assembly to govern Northern Ireland.

May is said to support Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s position that border checks will not be reinstated between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

I have been clear that we will make a success of the UK’s departure from the European Union. That means it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic,” May said.

We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

Customs controls existed on the border from its establishment in 1923 until 1993, when they were abolished as part of a wider agreement to remove borders within the European Community.

During her visit to Northern Ireland May will face calls from senior politicians, including a former minister of Sinn Fein and leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), to ensure the peace process is protected in the event of Brexit.

The group, which includes former Sinn Fein minister John O’Dowd and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, have warned the PM they will seek a judicial review if she “fails to commit to comply with the UK’s constitutional and legal obligations in deciding whether and when to trigger Article 50” and formalize Britain’s exit from the EU

These obligations include safeguarding the unique requirements of Northern Ireland constitutional law and statute, in particular the statutory recognition of the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, and satisfying the requirements of EU law incorporated into the law of Northern Ireland by the European Communities Act 1972,” they said.