Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland left out as Scottish and Welsh leaders meet EU Brexit boss Barnier

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Northern Ireland has been left out in the cold in talks with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.

Michel Barnier met with representatives from the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament in Brussels yesterday - but with Stormont still in limbo, Northern Ireland went unrepresented.

Yesterday's meeting was held ahead of a fresh rounds of Brexit negotiations, which will begin next Monday.

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."

Sir Jeffrey called on Secretary of State James Brokenshire to publish his plans on how he intends to deal with the impasse "very soon", but warned: "I think we are heading for a period of direct rule."

Speaking following the collapse of negotiations to re-establish Stormont last week, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill said that the lack of a voice was a "consequence" of the DUP's deal to prop up the Conservatives at Westminster.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood warned the Stormont Executive must be restored in order to resist the "catastrophe" of Brexit.

"The threat posed to this part of our island cannot be underestimated, we must restore the institutions to resist it. We cannot be left behind, it is our responsibility to prevent this catastrophe," said Mr Eastwood.

"Today the North of Ireland is cut out of formal talks with the head negotiator Michel Barnier due to the absence of a government here.

"While Scotland and Wales meet with the EU lead, we are left without a voice at that table."

He described Brexit as "the most dangerous economic, social and constitutional crisis to face this island since partition".

"We must return a system of sustainable devolution," he added.

"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."

Speaking after her meeting with Mr Barnier, Ms Sturgeon said that it had been "useful and constructive".

She 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 negotiations.

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