British government 'taking a leap into the dark' with no Brexit plan – McGuinness

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has accused the British Government of “taking a leap into the dark” following Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that the formal Brexit process will be triggered before the end of March 2017.

The MLA, who is Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister, also accused the government of having “no idea what Brexit means”.

He was reacting after Prime Minister Theresa May announced Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which triggers the formal withdrawal process for Brexit, will be invoked by the end of March 2017.

It will mark the start of the two-year process to enact the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster has welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement.

Ms Foster added she would be travelling to Birmingham on Tuesday for further discussions on the issue.

Alliance Deputy Leader Naomi Long has said the Prime Minister's announcement “makes the inaction from the Executive an even more significant issue”.

"The complexities facing Northern Ireland are momentous, yet the Executive has not been clear about what it wants going forward," she said.

"The DUP and Sinn Féin are also refusing to positively engage with other parties around the issue, when a combined effort could help get the best deal in the event of any withdrawal from the EU.

"Northern Ireland's interests need to be fully represented in any Brexit negotiations. When compared with the coherent responses to date from other devolved regions, it is clear we are missing out. The Prime Minister's announcement means that needs to change immediately."

Ulster Unionist economy spokesperson Steve Aiken also called on the Northern Ireland Executive to urgently come up with a plan to deal with the impact of a Brexit.

“There is a huge onus on the Northern Ireland Executive to urgently pull a credible plan together for Northern Ireland so that the unique challenges facing us are addressed as part of the UK's negotiations with the EU.

“The Executive now has nowhere left to hide and the clock has started counting down.

“Their approach so far has been lamentable, marked by mixed messaging and a complete lack of urgency. We need to exploit the opportunities presented by Brexit but if we're not careful we could be left behind.”