F-e-r-m-a-n-a-g-h: Theresa May mocked after aide fails to pronounce 'Fermanagh' - as PM urges EU to 'evolve' Brexit stance in Belfast speech
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F-e-r-m-a-n-a-g-h: Theresa May mocked after aide fails to pronounce 'Fermanagh' - as PM urges EU to 'evolve' Brexit stance in Belfast speech

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May called on the EU to "evolve" its position on the Irish border during a highly-anticipated Brexit speech in Northern Ireland this morning.

Speaking at Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Mrs May said the EU's so-called "backstop" plan for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was not something she could "ever accept".

The border backstop would effectively see Northern Ireland remain within the single market and customs union post-Brexit.

But Theresa May claimed the plan breached the Good Friday Agreement and would damage the constitutional integrity of the UK by having a customs border implemented in the Irish Sea.

Instead, the PM's controversial proposal is for the UK as a whole to retain elements of the customs union on a temporary basis - to the anger of Brexiteers in her own party.

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The proposal, agreed at Chequers earlier this month, has already seen Mrs May lose her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to successive resignations.

The Prime Minister began her speech today by reminding those present that she leads the "Conservative and Unionist Party".

She said that she had made "protecting and strengthening our own special Union an absolute priority" during her government's Brexit negotiations with the bloc.

"Right across the UK, far more unites than divides us - perhaps the greatest strength of our union is its potential," she added.

"I believe in the partnership of our union of four great nations and I want it to endure for years to come. A government I lead will never be neutral in our support for the union."

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Mrs May called for dialogue between both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland in a bid to get powersharing back on track.

The 61-year-old said it was a source of "frustration and regret" that there has been no executive at Stormont for 18 months.

She added that the EU's border backstop "is not something I could ever accept" in its present form.

"The notion of a hard border is almost inconceivable, a seamless border must continue. Any form of infrastructure is an alien concept," she said.

"For all of us who care about our country, for all of us who want this Union of nations to thrive, that duty goes to the heart of what it means to be a United Kingdom.

"Our job is not to deal with Brexit in theory - but to make a success of it in practice, for all of our people."

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F-e-r-m-a-n-a-g-h

Mrs May's speech came shortly after one of her aides raised eyebrows by refusing to say the word Fermanagh "in case I mispronounce it".

After the Irish Times sought clarification on where exactly Mrs May would be visiting during her two-day trip to the North, a 10 Downing Street spokesperson provided a response which many have claimed sums up Westminster's attitude towards Northern Ireland.

During a phone exchange, the aide reportedly said: "The Prime Minister will be in — I'll spell it for you in case I mispronounce it — F-e-r-m-a-n-a-g-h."

The same press office spokesperson went on to confirm they were not entirely sure where in Northern Ireland Mrs May would be visiting.