PM Theresa May’s Belfast Speech
20 July 2018
When I became Prime Minister just over 2 years ago, I spoke of the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A union not just of nations, but of peoples bound by a common purpose, whoever we are and wherever we are from.
I also reminded people that the full name of my political party is the Conservative and Unionist Party.
And that name carries a profound significance for me.
The party I lead has a belief in the Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a central tenet of our political philosophy.
And as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it is my duty to serve the whole UK and to govern in the interests of every part of it.
And that defines the approach I have taken in government over the past 2 years.
And, as we leave the European Union, I have made protecting and strengthening our own precious Union, by making sure the deal we strike works for every part of the UK, an absolute priority.
My belief in our Union of nations is rooted not just in history, but in our collective achievements.
Time and again, we have stood together as one to overcome challenges and do great things.
This year, when we commemorate the centenary of the Armistice, we will remember the sacrifice of brave people from here and indeed the whole island of Ireland.
And at the end of the Second World War, Churchill famously said that without Northern Ireland, ‘the light which now shines so strongly throughout the world would have been quenched’.
After that war, a great national institution – our National Health Service – was established across the United Kingdom, a symbol of solidarity in our Union.
Today, our NHS stands alongside other pillars of our national life.
Our parliamentary democracy and our commitment to the rule of law have been admired and imitated around the world.
These are the results of our common endeavour as a Union.
They are the signs which signify its depth and fundamental strengths.
Right across the UK, far more unites than divides us.
Our sense of community and shared values. Our diversity and tolerance.
And perhaps the greatest strength of our Union is its potential for the future.
What together we can achieve in the years ahead as an outward-looking United Kingdom.
As we pursue our Modern Industrial Strategy, government working with business and academia to boost productivity, invest in science and research, and create more good jobs in every community, making the most of rapidl-changing technology.
As we leave the European Union, and go out to strike new trade deals around the world, open up new markets for the great products and services of our innovators and entrepreneurs.
As we face the challenges of the future together and draw on the talents and resources of every part of our United Kingdom to overcome them.
And that of course includes Northern Ireland.
Its cultural landscape is dynamic, vibrant and wholly original.
Northern Ireland is a TV and cinema powerhouse, supported by UK government tax policies to support the film industry.
Over 2 million visitors come to Northern Ireland each year as tourists – to experience its vibrancy and beauty.
It is home to great universities, great small businesses, a burgeoning cybersecurity sector.
Northern Ireland makes a major contribution to our Union, and it also derives great benefits from being an integral part of the UK.
Every family and every business benefits from the strength and security that comes from being part of the world’s fifth largest economy.
The rest of the UK is by far Northern Ireland’s biggest market, accounting for over half of its sales.
Today, unemployment is half the level it was in 2010 and employment is at a near-record high.
The prosperity generated by a country with global interests, and the principle of pooling and sharing our resources that defines the UK, supports public services that people in Northern Ireland rely on.
I believe in the partnership of our four great nations in one proud Union and I want it to endure for generations to come.
So a government I lead will never be neutral in our support for the Union.
We will always make the case for it.
I believe a clear majority of the people of Northern Ireland will continue to have confidence in a future for them and their families that lies within a strong United Kingdom.
But I also respect the fact that a substantial section of the population here identify as Irish and aspire to a future within a united Ireland.
I will always govern in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland and not just one part of it.
We are absolutely committed to parity of esteem, and just and equal treatment irrespective of aspiration or identity.
We want to work with all parties, and right across society to build a stronger, more inclusive and more prosperous Northern Ireland that truly works for everyone.
That is why I have met all the main parties on this visit, and why I keep up a regular dialogue with them.
The bright future I want to help build for Northern Ireland is one in which everyone, regardless of their community background or political aspirations, is able to live happy and fulfilling lives and to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.
I want to say, too, that I share your concern about the episodes of serious disorder in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry last week.
This government – like the communities here – has been absolutely clear in condemning this activity, which is a matter of deep concern for everyone who wants to see a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.
This violence is not representative of the wider community and I pay tribute to the brave officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the emergency services and others in the community who worked tirelessly to keep people safe.
We are all committed to making sure that Northern Ireland continues to move forward.
Now, the principles that define Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom, along with its unique relationship with Ireland, are of course enshrined in the Belfast Agreement and its successors.
The Belfast Agreement, reached 20 years ago, is a landmark in the history of our islands.
It was overwhelmingly endorsed by referendums here in Northern Ireland and in Ireland.
Successive UK and Irish governments, together with all the parties in Northern Ireland, have worked tirelessly to bring about the historic achievement of peace.
Leaders like David Trimble and John Hume, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, have made history.
And my predecessors as Prime Minister have played their part.
Sir John Major helped to start the peace process.
Tony Blair helped bring it to fruition, making power-sharing – which for so long had seemed a prize beyond reach – a reality at last.
Gordon Brown oversaw the devolution of policing and justice powers.
And I saw first-hand as a member of his cabinet how hard David Cameron worked on the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements.
I think everyone who has the honour and responsibility of holding the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom feels a special responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland.
The historic achievement that the Belfast Agreement and its successors represent is something we should all be proud of.
I am determined to protect it and to uphold the rights it enshrines.
The fact that the current Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI, Drew Harris, will shortly become Commissioner in An Garda Siochana is an amazing symbol of the progress made over the last twenty years.
And we will continue to work with our friends in the Irish Government, who have been our close partners in that progress including at next week’s British and Irish inter-governmental conference.
The UK government’s support for the constitutional principles set out in those agreements, and for the full range of political institutions they established, is steadfast.
So it is a matter of frustration and regret that after enjoying the longest period of unbroken devolved government since the 1960s, Northern Ireland has now been without a fully-functioning Executive for over 18 months.
I commend the Northern Ireland Civil Service for the work they are doing to deliver public services in Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive.
And I want to see the Assembly and Executive back up and running, taking decisions on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland. They deserve no less.
So, in full accordance with the three stranded approach, we continue to do all we can to see the re-establishment of devolution and all the institutions of the Belfast Agreement.
But an agreement cannot be imposed.
That needs to come from within Northern Ireland.
A first step has to be the resumption of political dialogue aimed at finding a solution.
And that should begin as soon as possible.
Until then, the UK government will of course fulfil our responsibility to ensure good governance and stability in Northern Ireland.
But interventions from Westminster are no substitute for decisions taken here.
Effective and enduring devolved government is the right thing for Northern Ireland and it is best for the Union.
The Belfast Agreement did not just establish a set of institutions, it also defined the principles that underpin their legitimacy for people across the community.
The principle that it is the ‘birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose.’
And the consent principle, that it will always be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide ‘without external impediment’ what their constitutional future should be…
…with the UK government always giving effect to the democratic choice of the people of Northern Ireland, ‘freely and legitimately given’.
These principles are the bedrock of peace and stability in Northern Ireland and it is the duty of the UK government always to respect and uphold them.
Doing so is not just the guiding force behind our approach to government in Northern Ireland, it is also at the heart of our approach to Brexit as well.
In leaving the European Union, as we are doing, we have a duty to ensure that the outcome we achieve works for the whole UK, including Northern Ireland.
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 and what it means to be a government.
Our job is not to deal with Brexit in theory, but to make a success of it in practice for all of our people.
And nowhere is the need for practical solutions more vital than here in Northern Ireland, the only place where the United Kingdom shares a land border with an EU Member State that is also a co-signatory to the Belfast Agreement.
I have said consistently that there can never be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
I said it in my letter triggering Article 50, in my speech at Mansion House and many times besides.
During the referendum, both campaigns agreed that the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland must remain ‘absolutely unchanged’.
Indeed, you only have to speak to businesses near the border, as I did yesterday, to see that the notion of a hard border is almost inconceivable.
Thousands of people who cross and re-cross between the UK and Ireland in the normal course of their daily lives cannot be subject to a hard border as they go to work, visit a neighbour, or go to the supermarket.
Neither would it be feasible for firms whose supply and distribution chains span the border.
Many people in communities like Fermanagh and Newry remember the customs border posts, approved roads and security installations of the not-too distant past.
They recall the administrative burdens on business, the disruption caused to lives and livelihoods.