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UPDATE 1-Irish PM sees "landing zone" for Brexit after Johnson talks

Thu, 13th Aug 2020 15:46

* New Irish PM and UK's Johnson meet for first time

* Martin says both sides want to avoid fresh economic shock

* Johnson's N.Ireland centenary plans divides opinion
(Adds detail, quotes from N.Ireland leaders)

BELFAST, Aug 13 (Reuters) - New Irish Prime Minister Micheál
Martin said after his first meeting with British premier Boris
Johnson on Thursday that he believes there is a "landing zone"
for securing a post-Brexit trade deal between the United Kingdom
and the European Union.

The United Kingdom, which formally left the EU on Jan. 31,
is seeking to negotiate a new free trade accord by the end of
the year, when a transition period that maintains the main
economic terms of its membership will expire.

Martin said he and Johnson, who met in British-ruled
Northern Ireland, had agreed on the "absolute necessity" that
such an accord would be tariff and quota free and on the need to
reach a deal as quickly as possible.

"It seems to me that there is a landing zone if that will is
there on both sides, and I think it is," said Martin, who became
prime minister in June.

"My own gut instinct is that there is a shared understanding
that we don't need another shock to the economic system that a
sub-optimal trade agreement would give alongside of the enormous
shock of COVID," he told reporters in Belfast.

On his first visit to Northern Ireland since the COVID-19
pandemic, Johnson sought to talk up the strength of union
between Britain's constituent nations.

His message echoed that made on a similar trip to Scotland,
where polls show support for independence now outstrips that for
remaining part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland's views on leaving the United Kingdom are
still largely split along sectarian lines, with many Catholics
favouring the creation of a united Ireland while pro-British
Protestants favour the status quo.

The dispute fuelled three decades of bloodshed that largely
ended with a 1998 peace deal.

Johnson announced plans to establish two new bodies to work
with his government on marking the centenary next year of the
creation of Northern Ireland. They have divided opinion among
the region's pro-British unionist and Irish nationalist leaders.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster of the
Democratic Unionist Party welcomed the initiative and called for
it to be inclusive.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein, which
seeks a united Ireland, said she would resist any "one-sided
biased approach from the British government".
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Dublin,
William James in London
Editing by Gareth Jones)

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