Northern Ireland

Brexit: NI parties react to news that formal exit process to begin next year

Theresa May arrives at the Tory conference Image copyright AP
Image caption Theresa May opened the Conservative Party conference with a speech focusing on Brexit

Northern Ireland's parties have been responding to the news that the formal process for the UK to leave the European Union will begin by the end of March next year.

It follows an announcement by Theresa May that she intends to formally begin the Brexit process next year.

The prime minister said she would trigger Article 50 before the end of March.

She unveiled her plans at the Conservative Party conference.

The event, which is being held in Birmingham, is Mrs May's first as prime minister.

Image caption Mr Donaldson said it was good that there was now a "clear timescale to move this forward"

The DUP who campaigned to Leave have welcomed the move to trigger Article 50, which will see the UK leaving the European Union in 2019, but the plan has been criticised by Sinn Féin.

The DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC: "I do think we need to get on with it now. Further uncertainty and a further period where people don't know what's going to happen where there isn't a negotiating process that people can focus on doesn't help anyone.

"I think it's good that we've got now a clear timescale to move this forward."

Image caption Sinn Féin's North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, said the prime minister had been pushed into the decision

However, Sinn Féin remain unconvinced and says Brexit ignores local opinion and claim there is still much uncertainty around.

The North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly says the prime minister has been pushed into the decision.

"I think it's to do with pressure, they were clearly stalling on the issue and I think they stalling because when she is asked what the strategy is she doesn't have the answers and in fairness to her I'm not sure anyone else has the answers either," he told the BBC.

Image caption Former NI Secretary Theresa Villiers described Mrs May's announcement as "welcome news"

Theresa May made the announcement during an interview with Andrew Marr on his programme on BBC One on Sunday.

Her decision has been backed by former NI Secretary Theresa Villiers who was a prominent member of the Leave Campaign.

She said: "I think it is very welcome news because that sets us on the path becoming an independent country again.

"Where the people that make our laws are the ones we elect."

This conference, the first since the EU referendum, is likely to be overshadowed by Brexit but the Conservative leadership is hopeful they can draw attention onto domestic matters like education, the economy and law and order.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The current Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will update party activists on his work since taking up office during his speech on Tuesday

Northern Ireland will be on the agenda on Tuesday when James Brokenshire addresses his first conference as Northern Ireland Secretary.

The Old Bexley and Sidcup MP will update activists on his work since taking office in July 2016.

Earlier on Tuesday, local politicians will gather for the traditional Ulster Fry Champ breakfast .

One of the key speakers will be the First Minister Arlene Foster who will take part in a question and answer session.

The Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy is also expected to attend.

At lunchtime on Tuesday, the DUP are holding a champagne reception about Brexit which is a new addition to the conference timetable.

Entitled "Making Brexit work, making this parliament work, making the majority work", the event will be attended by Conservative activists, MPs and peers.

The 75-minute reception will take place in an art gallery within the conference centre and is being hosted by Mrs Foster.

Her MP colleagues Nigel Dodds, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Robinson are all expected to attend.

The UUP's economy spokesperson, Steve Aiken, said following Mrs May's announcement, the executive had "nowhere left to hide and the clock has started counting down".

"Perhaps first minister Foster will be able to offer some clarity while she is sipping champagne at the Conservative Party Conference," he added.

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