Lib Dem leader Swinson goes where Johnson doesn't in visit to the Irish border

PUBLISHED: 14:09 12 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:23 12 August 2019

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson as she visits the Irish border at Forkhill near Newry.  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson as she visits the Irish border at Forkhill near Newry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has visited the Irish border - something the prime minister has failed to do in his new role, or in two years as foreign secretary.

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Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson with Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson with Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

On her first ever visit to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the new Lib Dem leader said it is still possible to stop the UK leaving the European Union.

She travelled to the part of the border which sits between Co Armagh and Co Louth to meet community representatives and young people living in the area.

She also met Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry who spoke to her about the dangers of a hard Brexit.

She told PA: "I felt it was important to come and listen to people and community groups about their experiences and about what the prospect of a hard border means to the communities. It's very powerful hearing from those individuals who live and work in this area.

"The Liberal Democrats have been very clear in our position, we think that Brexit is bad. There is no good Brexit for the UK and that includes Northern Ireland.

"We have been fighting for there to be no border here where I am standing and the way in which that has operated successfully for years now has been as members of the European Union and we are still members of the EU and it is still possible to stop Brexit.

"I recognise that for communities here the backstop is an important insurance policy but the best possible outcome is to have Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland both within the EU so that we can have a strong UK, in a strong EU so communities can live, work and go about their daily lives without the hassle of a hard border and without all of the downsides for our economic prosperity that will ensue if we do go ahead with Brexit."

She called on Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to visit the border and listen to people living and working in the region.

Swinson also said she was "not surprised" the prime minister took almost a week to contact Irish premier Leo Varadkar after he was appointed.

"He was perhaps our worst ever foreign secretary and does not possess the skills or diplomacy that was required for that role so we shouldn't be shocked that in the role of prime minister he is also not demonstrating that statesmanlike approach that ought to be needed," she added.

"At this time more than ever our country needs that.

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"We are in the midst of this Brexit crisis, we have got countries around the world looking at us with confusion as to why we are conducting ourselves this way and so we absolutely need to be forming strong relationships with other countries to be able to have good will as we approach these incredibly difficult times.

"Of course Boris Johnson famously enjoys causing offence and doesn't mind when he makes a gaffe.

"It's further evidence he is not fit to be a prime minister.

"His actions have been driven by what is best for Boris Johnson. He's wanted to be prime minister for so long that he is prepared to say anything including contradictory things to different people that it would take for him to get that role."

Doire Finn, co-founder of Our Future Our Choice NI, a cross-community youth group, was among a small group of young people to meet Swinson.

She highlighted some of the concerns young people have about Brexit.

She said: "We visit schools and a lot of people, particularly in border areas, are asking will I see my family, will I be able to go to school, will I go on a night out, and it's simple things that are being ignored and overlooked which are a part of everyone's life."

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