Updated: 18/01/17 : 05:57:01
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Border counties fear as 'hard Brexit inevitable'

There is further worry in border counties this morning as following the Theresa May speech yesterday the Irish Government conceded a 'hard Brexit' was inevitable.

Although Sligo does not share a border with Northern Ireland it is considered a border county because of its close proximity to Co Fermanagh, and in particular Enniskillen.

The town is a popular choice for Sligo shoppers seeking bargains as the current exchange rate between the Euro and Sterling gives them a distinct advantage.

UK Prime Minister May's pledge to maintain a Common Travel Area with Ireland once Britain leaves the EU has been thrown in doubt by senior Government ministers and key figures in Brussels.

In her long-awaited Brexit speech, Mrs May said she would seek to retain free movement between Ireland and Britain once negotiations begin in March.

The Irish Independent reports that Mrs May said she did not want to see the return of a hard border between the North and Republic, and said this would be a key demand during talks.

Mrs May also insisted she intended to take Britain entirely out of the EU single market - and warned the UK would not seek a "partial" or "associate" membership of the union.

The Government welcomed Mrs May's commitment to the Common Travel Area with Ireland, but said it was "under no illusions" of the challenges it was facing and conceded a 'hard Brexit' was inevitable.

Demand

Privately, Cabinet ministers raised concerns over how Mrs May would convince her EU counterparts to allow Britain to maintain a Common Travel Area with Ireland, but not with other member states.

Last night, a senior Fine Gael minister said Brussels would demand a hard border between the North and South even if the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland remains.

"By listening to the Taoiseach and prime minister, I believe the rest of Europe will insist on a hard border and the Border will have to be manned," the minister said.

A Government source said that Taoiseach Enda Kenny emphasised the importance of no return of a hard border and maintaining the integrity of the common travel area with Mrs May before her speech.

The source said the Government was happy Mr Kenny's comments were taken on board by the prime minster when she noted a "special relationship" between the two countries. But it said details of how a hard border could be avoided "have yet to be worked out".

Meanwhile, in Brussels one senior diplomat said the speech by Mrs May was "not very realistic" and signalled very hard and long upcoming negotiations.

"The decision that Britain is totally leaving not just the single market but also the customs union has huge ramifications for trade and the threat of tariffs. This is not necessarily good news for Ireland," the diplomat said.

A second official source warned that the coming two years would be "a rollercoaster ride" with talks likely to wax and wane. Much would depend on whether the UK economy could hold up over the negotiating period.

The EU Parliament's Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, said yesterday it was an "illusion" to think that Britain could enjoy the advantages of the European Union's single market without accepting the obligations that come with it.

"Threatening to turn the UK into a deregulated tax heaven will not only hurt British people - it is a counterproductive negotiating tactic," he said.

"Britain has chosen a hard Brexit. Mrs May's clarity is welcome - but the days of UK cherry-picking and Europe a la carte are over."