Diane Dodds: It’s a good day for democracy as our EU exit becomes inevitable

Prime Minister Theresa May announces in the House of Commons, London, that she has triggered Article 50, starting a two-year countdown to the UK leaving the EU. Wednesday March 29, 2017. Photo: PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May announces in the House of Commons, London, that she has triggered Article 50, starting a two-year countdown to the UK leaving the EU. Wednesday March 29, 2017. Photo: PA Wire

When the prime minister triggered Article 50 yesterday she reflected the collective will of the United Kingdom.

Our exit from the European Union is now inevitable. This is good for democracy.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds pictured in 2016 with the then President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and the Government Plenipotentiary for the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ivan Korcok, at the signing of her report amending the EU's Long-term Cod Management Plan in Strasbourg. Photo: European Union 2016

DUP MEP Diane Dodds pictured in 2016 with the then President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and the Government Plenipotentiary for the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ivan Korcok, at the signing of her report amending the EU's Long-term Cod Management Plan in Strasbourg. Photo: European Union 2016

The DUP has never been slow to push Northern Ireland’s case.

At Westminster and Brussels, we will ensure that this voice is heard.

No one underestimates the task ahead but there are exciting opportunities to seize.

Opportunities to create a new system of direct support for our farmers free from excessive red tape. Freedom to secure new access for local businesses to global markets; supporting our fishermen by reclaiming UK waters within the 200-mile limit and investing in our community without strings attached.

The EU is an important marketplace for local businesses but access should not be framed by free movement.

It is achievable to pursue mutually advantageous trading access outside the single market.

As Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to share a land border with another EU state we must ensure that future cross-border relations are beneficial to both parties.

The EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made this one of three conditions for reaching agreement.

The answer is not a ‘special status’ that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU by the backdoor.

Neither can there be controls that create barriers between people living and working in different UK regions.

The Common Travel Area (CTA) provides a clear template for the movement of people between Northern Ireland and the EU post-Brexit.

Brussels currently allows a level of controls at the external borders of the CTA as part of our opt-out from Schengen.

The UK and Irish governments have also accelerated a joint programme of work around visa requirements for non-EEA visitors.

Triggering Article 50 means we are leaving the EU but this does not mean leaving Europe.

It should not be viewed as a divorce but rather an opportunity to redefine the relationship with our closest allies.

We should not fall into the trap of thinking that Brussels holds all the cards.

The UK is the largest marketplace for German cars and largest importer from French farms. A permanent seat on the UN security council and continued membership of NATO means the UK’s role in ensuring security both at home and abroad is as strong as ever.

We should therefore go forward with confidence. A new deal based on commerce, prosperity and security is in our mutual interest.

The EU is expected to publish draft negotiating guidelines within the next 48 hours.

The logical first step of talks should be to address the rights of UK and EU nationals residing in either jurisdiction, perhaps through a ‘Heads of Agreement’.

It is time to cast aside the divisive rhetoric and commit to finding solutions that benefit all of our people.

The battle lines have been drawn but by pursuing an agreement with a positive mindset this is a negotiation from which both sides can claim success.”

• Diane Dodds is DUP MEP for Northern Ireland