British Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday during a trip to Belfast, Northern Island, that Britain's exit from the European Union should not pose an obstacle to the open border agreement that exists among Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Her remarks contrast comments she made in May that indicated it would be very difficult not to impose border controls if the United Kingdom left the EU. Photo courtesy Theresa May for Prime Minister/Facebook
BELFAST, Northern Ireland, July 25 (UPI) -- Just because the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, and Ireland is staying, doesn't mean it will cause trouble for residents crossing Irish borders, according to British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May visited the Northern Ireland capital on Monday for the first time as prime minister and indicated that the so-called Brexit will not lead to the restrictive border measures Ireland and Northern Ireland had established in the past.
"Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past," she told political leaders at Stormont Castle in Belfast on Monday.
"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," she added after a meet with Belfast's first and deputy first ministers, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.
However, May's remarks stand in stark contrast to an opinion she voiced, also in Belfast, just weeks ago when she was Britain's home secretary. During that trip, she said it was "inconceivable" that border arrangements between the nations could stay the same if the United Kingdom left the EU.
"Just think about it. If we were out of the European Union, with tariffs on exporting goods into the EU, there would have to be something to recognize that, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland" she told BBC Newsline in an interview in May. "And if you pulled out of the EU and came out of free movement, then how could you have a situation where there was an open border with a country that was in the EU?"
Monday, though, May, who strongly advocated staying in the EU, sounded like she was less concerned about that prospect.
"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," she said. "But we have had a common travel area between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union."
Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU -- as did the majority of voters in Northern Ireland (56 percent), but that nation is bound by the British government's decision on the matter.
"There is absolutely no good news whatsoever about Brexit," Guinness, who had wanted to stay in the EU, said Monday. "I made it clear to the British prime minister that the democratically expressed wishes of the people of the North, who see their future in Europe, who voted to remain in Europe, should be respected."
"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," Foster, a Brexit proponent, said.
May emphasized Monday that the Common Travel Agreement, which allows open travel among residents in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, predates the EU. It was established in 1923.