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Top EU negotiator meets with Scottish and Welsh reps, but Northern Ireland is left out

By Michael Sheils McNamee

The EU's lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has met with representatives from the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, but Northern Ireland was left out in the cold due to its lack of government.

The meeting was held ahead of fresh rounds of Brexit negotiations set to go ahead on Monday July 17.

Mr Barnier met with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said that the situation was "most unfortunate to say the least" and that "Northern Ireland needs its voice represented in the Brexit negotiations".

"Sinn Fein is now the only party not prepared to enter the Executive," he said.

"The other parties have indicated they would. We’re ready to do the business. We want to be there today to represent Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein are blocking that."

Speaking following the collapse of negotiations to reestablish the Stormont Assembly last week, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill said that it was a "consequence" of the DUP's deal to support the Tory government.

In a statement, leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood said that Northern Ireland had been "cut out" of the talks by the current situation in Stormont and that Brexit was "the most dangerous economic, social and constitutional crisis to face this island since partition".

"We must return a system of sustainable devolution. The alternative is that we are dragged into direct rule, where the pro-Brexit Tories and DUP have a free hand on our futures. Those of us elected on mandates to fight a hard Brexit, must be able to do that," Mr Eastwood said.

Commenting following her meeting with Mr Barnier First Minister Sturgeon said that it had been "useful and constructive" and emphasised her view that the UK should remain within the single market.

"I outlined to Mr Barnier that our priority is to protect Scotland's vital economic interests, and that the Scottish government will do all that it can to build a consensus against an extreme Brexit outside the single market, which would have potentially catastrophic consequences for jobs, investment and our living standards," she said.

Ms Sturgeon added that the work of her government wasn't about holding separate Scottish negotiations, but rather about trying to have an impact on the UK's negoitations.

The meetings in Brussels come as the Conservative government publish the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which will convert the EU's laws into UK laws mean that the same laws will be in place after Brexit goes through.

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