1. ITV Report

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

Martin McGuinness has accused the British government of "taking a leap into the dark". Photo: Pacemaker

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.

The issue of when the British government will actually trigger Brexit continues to be a movable feast. Theresa May has also made a U-turn on comments she made before the referendum when she said it was inconceivable to suggest a Leave vote would not have a negative impact on the border. The reality is that the British government is taking a leap into the dark with no plan and has no idea what Brexit means. What is clear is there is no good outcome from Brexit. The people of the North voted to stay in the EU. That vote must be recognised and respected in any negotiations.

– Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin

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

The DUP fought a leave campaign not just in Northern Ireland but also across the whole of the United Kingdom. We played a key role in the campaign. I believe the decision to leave the European Union is in the best interests of the United Kingdom.
However it is important to collectively work to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland as the exit process commences next year. It is important to maximise our opportunities as well as overcoming the challenges unique to Northern Ireland. I make no apologies for saying that I will be working to secure the best exit deal for Northern Ireland and I will work alongside other parties, despite our differences on the referendum outcome, to get that deal for our people. There are huge opportunities for Northern Ireland and United Kingdom collectively and we want to make the most of them.

– Arlene Foster, DUP

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.”