Belfast Telegraph

Robin Swann: We joined the EEC as one nation and we'll leave the EU as one nation

Those demanding special status for NI post-Brexit are calling for the break-up of the United Kingdom

By Robin Swann

Last Monday's attack on the innocent people of Manchester demonstrated the cruelty of terrorism. It was a stark manifestation of the hatred our enemies have for our way of life and the free and democratic society which we hold dear.

However, as before, the people of Manchester and the United Kingdom came together in the face of terrorism to support the families of those murdered and critically injured. They will continue to be in our thoughts.

Terrorism is wrong and can never be justified. There are no excuses and no reasons for the use of terror, whether it was Manchester a week ago or Manchester 21 years ago.

There can be no equivocation about this: the terrorists who committed murder on the streets of Manchester are opposed to our democracy.

I believe that the people of the United Kingdom will be defiant in sending a strong message of opposition to the terrorists and their apologists.

Therefore, at this election, it is vital that people exercise their right to vote. Every vote really does count and matter.

We are living in uncertain times and it is vital that Northern Ireland has 18 voices in Westminster fighting our corner.

The clearest demonstration of what can happen if politicians work together is when you look at how Jim Nicholson, Ian Paisley and John Hume worked together in the European Parliament in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.

We can do the same in Brexit negotiations.

This election is not a rerun of the European referendum and neither should we allow people to couch it in those terms. The United Kingdom joined the EEC as one nation and we'll leave the EU as one nation.

This election is about creating a stronger, better Union for everyone and getting the best deal possible for Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit negotiations. We need to send out a strong, clear message that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom.

We are part of one of the world's most successful economies and, therefore, it is vital that we are part of the negotiations to get the best deal for the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union. That will best serve the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.

That is why it is crucial that Ulster Unionist MPs are elected to Westminster, MPs who are focused on creating a stronger, better Union for everyone and who will best represent everyone's interests.

Ulster Unionist MPs will ensure that your voices are heard in parliament. In the two years since they were elected in 2015, Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan have a proven track record of delivery, both for their constituencies and Northern Ireland.

They've led the way in campaigning on veterans' issues, being at the forefront of campaigns to stop the rewriting of history, for the first time establishing an all-party parliamentary group on the Union at Westminster and standing up for Women Against State Pension Age Inequality (Waspi), pressing the Government to introduce fair transitional payments for those who have been disadvantaged.

Those are just some of the issues in which they've been involved and will continue to work on if they are successfully re-elected on June 8. Abstentionists certainly won't be in a position to represent everyone's interests in parliament and your voice will go unheard. Sinn Fein have been trying to hoodwink the electorate by claiming that taking seats in Westminster doesn't matter. Of course it matters.

Sinn Fein know that they are kidding the people when they try and claim that abstentionism is a viable way of influencing government. The fact that their one MEP from Northern Ireland takes her seat in a 751 seat European Parliament is a direct contradiction of that policy. Sinn Fein may be happy to milk the Westminster expenses system to fill their party coffers; Ulster Unionist MPs will actually do the job for which they are elected.

Those calling for special status for Northern Ireland are calling for the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is an attempt to create a united Ireland by the back door. There can be no border up the middle of the Irish Sea, or a situation allowed to develop where citizens of Northern Ireland will get their passports checked at Cairnryan, Heathrow or Gatwick.

That is totally unacceptable and that is why we stand totally opposed to the concept of special status for Northern Ireland. All our energies should be focused instead on the Brexit negotiations.

Calls by some for a second EU referendum following negotiations are a thinly veiled attempt to reverse the decision taken by the people of the United Kingdom in the referendum last year. And it also weakens our negotiating hand with the EU.

Why would the EU attempt to negotiate fair terms with the UK if they thought that there was any possibility of a second referendum happening?

It is also rampant scaremongering from those who claim that there is going to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Their arguments don't stack up. They still can't explain how there could possibly be a hard border if the UK Government, the Irish Government and the EU all say that they are opposed to one.

It is ironic that the party banging the drum the loudest about the creation of a hard border are Sinn Fein. They're all over the place on this issue.

They will not be allowed to hinder Brexit negotiations because they think they can exploit the situation to further their own ideology. The EU have been creative before in dealing with issues and I am sure they can be creative again.

A vote for the Ulster Unionist Party at this election will be a vote for a fair and balanced approach to dealing with the past; it will be a vote for a stronger, better Union for everyone, to get the best deal in Brexit negotiations and a vote to ensure your voice is heard in parliament. Ulster Unionist MPs will be a voice for everyone, whether that be victims, veterans, the business sector, or our agricultural community.

We will be champions for the Union and will focus on a positive future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Robin Swann MLA is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

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