Northern Ireland

Brexit: Northern Ireland 'can be success outside EU'

James Brokenshire
Image caption James Brokenshire said the government would work to ensure that Northern Ireland's unique interests are protected and advanced outside of the EU

James Brokenshire has told the Conservative Party conference he has no doubt that Northern Ireland can be a success outside of the European Union.

Mr Brokenshire was giving his first address to a party conference as Northern Ireland secretary of state.

He also said tackling paramilitary groups "remains a key part" of the government's agenda.

The conference also hosted talks between First Minister Arlene Foster and the prime minister.

Image caption Arlene Foster said she was "encouraged" about the prime minister's attitude to Northern Ireland

The two, along with DUP MP Nigel Dodds, met for 30 minutes and discussed Brexit, the border and parliamentary matters.

Champagne reception

Mrs Foster said Theresa May was "engaged" on the issue of the Irish border post-Brexit.

"I am really encouraged by the fact that she has, in every major speech that she has made this far, talked about the United Kingdom and the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Image caption Arlene Foster said something was 'lost in translation' when the DUP's champagne reception was booked

"So, those people who say she is not interested in Northern Ireland and we are only bit part players could not be further from the truth."

Meanwhile, the first minister said she was "not at all" embarrassed after a DUP champagne reception event at conference attracted social media attention.

Mrs Foster said something was "lost in translation" when the event was booked and a drinks reception was billed as a champagne reception.

She told the BBC that the coverage was "all good PR".

Image caption Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy said there should be an All-Ireland forum to discuss Brexit

On Tuesday, Mrs Foster and representatives from Sinn Féin, the UUP, the Conservative Party and business community attended the conference's tradition Ulster Fry event.

The event was also attended by members of the police federation and Dan Mulhall, the Irish ambassador to the UK.

Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy said it was important to set up an All-Ireland forum to discuss Brexit.

"I think it is very important that the forum is in place, because not all the views of unionism is represented here at the table today or at the conference."

UUP MP Danny Kinahan said the executive needed a plan to deal with Brexit.

"I just think we have no direction on where we're going," he said.

"We don't know what we are arguing over, what we are fighting for and how we are going to keep the jobs, industry and business working."

Image caption UUP MP Danny Kinahan said there was 'no direction' over how the executive will deal with Brexit

Earlier, Mr Brokenshire had said the government would "stand faithfully by" the agreements that had secured political stability in NI, he added.

Speaking about Brexit, Mr Brokenshire said: "Building a Northern Ireland that works for everyone, also means making a success of the UK's democratic decision to leave the European union.

"And I am in no doubt that we can and will.

"We will work to ensure that Northern Ireland's unique interests are protected and advanced."

Mr Brokenshire added that no-one wanted to see a return to the borders of the past and that the Common Travel Area had served the UK and Ireland well for decades.

He said Northern Ireland's future would only be determined by democracy and consent, never by violence.

The Conservative Party conference ends on Wednesday with a speech from the Prime Minister Theresa May.

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