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Northern Ireland Brexit split widens as Sinn Fein's McGuinness calls for consent motion

By Noel McAdam

Published 22/11/2016

Questions: Martin McGuinness
Questions: Martin McGuinness

The Assembly should be allowed to give its approval before the Government kick starts formal negotiations on Brexit, Martin McGuinness has said.

Speaking in the Assembly, he said he would be in favour of MLAs debating a "legislative consent motion" before Article 50 on Brexit is triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May.

And the Deputy First Minister also revealed he would support 'special status' for Northern Ireland as the UK departs from the European Union.

In a statement, which again underpins the extent of the gap with First Minister Arlene Foster over EU withdrawal, he said the Government had so far failed to tell the devolved administrations what their objectives are.

"As far as I am concerned, everything is on the table," Mr McGuinness told MLAs at Question Time.

"Nobody can put their hand on their heart and say exactly how this negotiation is going to work out."

The Sinn Fein minister also accused Ulster Unionist and SDLP MLAs of asking questions they already know the answers to, which he said was "all right in politics".

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath asked why the Executive did not give its support to the legal challenge to the Government's appeal to overturn the High Court's decision that Brexit must be debated by Parliament.

And the UUP's Philip Smith asked if Mr McGuinness had held discussions with First Minister Arlene Foster on the Supreme Court appeal.

"Quite clearly, in the run-in to the referendum, our partners in government were on a different side of the debate from us," Mr McGuinness said.

"That is democracy; that is politics. I have to live with that, even if I did not appreciate it. But I have to deal with the outcome of all that."

The Sinn Fein MLA added: "I think the entire process we are engaged in is in a state of flux.

"Nobody - neither me, the First Minister, the member who has just spoken nor any other member - can put hand on heart and say that they know what the final outcome of all this will be," he said.

In response to questioning by Jim Allister, Mr McGuinness said the TUV leader believes the overall UK vote should take precedence over the fact that the people here in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain.

"That creates a problem for the British Government, and it also creates a problem for the European Union," he said.

"As far as I am concerned, in the upcoming negotiations everything is on the table."

Risking the united front which he and Mrs Foster have agreed on the basis of reaching the best possible terms of agreement of a post-Brexit Europe for Northern Ireland, Mr McGuinness said: "Whether our partners in the Government favour that is a matter for themselves.

"Speaking personally and on behalf of my party, not on behalf of the DUP, I would absolutely be in favour of a legislative consent motion."

And he added: "Again, speaking personally, I would be in favour of a designated status (for Northern Ireland) within the European Union."

Belfast Telegraph

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