Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Brexit

Extracts from Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP’s keynote speech to the 2016 British Irish Association Conference opening event at Oxford University September 9, 2016

"UK Exit from the EU

The people of the United Kingdom were given a choice in the referendum. And they voted decisively to leave the European Union.

I campaigned for remain, but I am clear that we must and will respect that democratic decision and give effect to it.

And while respecting the views of those parts of the UK that voted to remain, this was a United Kingdom vote.

The imperative now is to work together and ensure that we have a positive and successful vision for Northern Ireland - inside the UK, within the closest set of relationships within these islands, but outside the EU.

We have to make the most of the opportunities that our departure from the EU presents.

The UK has always been a great global trading nation and that’s what we’ll continue to be - getting out there and doing business right across the world.

That’s why I have just spent two days in Washington - with the simple message that the UK, and Northern Ireland in particular, is open for business.

And another reason we will make a success of our departure is because the fundamentals of the UK economy are sound.

We’ve reduced the deficit we inherited by nearly two-thirds.

Employment is at record levels, with an average 1,000 jobs a day created over the past six years.

We continue to attract more foreign direct investment than any other country in Europe.

And in Northern Ireland the economy continues to grow with unemployment falling and more than 55,000 people in work since 2010. So while, yes, leaving the EU will inevitably involve some challenges and as the Prime Minister said last weekend it will not all be plain sailing - we approach this with optimism and a positive view of what we can achieve for the UK.

And as we establish a UK negotiating position, the Prime Minister has made clear her desire to engage fully with the devolved administrations, including the Northern Ireland Executive.

We also want to offer reassurance and certainty across a number of key sectors.

Future of EU structural funds

And that’s why the Chancellor announced last month that all European structural and investment funding agreements in the UK signed before this year’s Autumn Statement will be fully funded, even after we have left the EU.

That includes funding agreed under the Peace Four and Interreg programmes.

In addition, we will match the current level of direct payments given to farmers until 2020 - a boost to the agriculture sector which in Northern Ireland is the backbone of the local economy.

As Secretary of State I am also fully committed to ensuring that as we establish our negotiating position the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced.

Northern Ireland / Ireland border

This is particularly the case in relation to the border.

So let me try and offer these words of re-assurance.

The UK Government emphatically does not want to see a return to the borders of the past.

The Prime Minister emphasised that on her visit to Stormont and I want to underline that point again this evening. And I know that determination is shared by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

The open border and the Common Travel Area have served us well for decades. So it is a priority to keep them open for people and business.

Perceived risk to the Belfast Agreement

I also want to respond to suggestions that leaving the EU risks unravelling all the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent years, and that it could fatally undermine the settlement forged by the 1998 Agreement and its successors.

I fundamentally reject that argument.

For a start I am confident that all parties in the Assembly support the current political settlement, want it to work and are fully committed to exclusively democratic and peaceful means.

For our part, the UK Government remains fully committed to the Agreement and its successors. That includes the political institutions.

The Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council will all continue to reflect the unique political relationships throughout these islands.

In addition those elements of the Agreements that deal with people’s rights and identity will be upheld. As will all the constitutional guarantees - underpinned by the abiding principle of consent.

And there remains continued overwhelming support for the current settlement, as the opinion poll this week has shown.

Political stability in Northern Ireland has been hard fought over many decades, and we will not do anything to undermine it. This Government remains determined to do the best for Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom as a whole."