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Northern Ireland MPs must unite to get best out of Brexit

Editor's Viewpoint

The Supreme Court's decision to force the Government to seek the approval of Parliament before beginning formal negotiations on leaving the EU does not mean that MPs will try to frustrate the will of the electorate who voted for Brexit. That would be a very foolish path to even contemplate.

What it does mean, however, is that Opposition parties can make amendments to the Bill triggering the negotiations, and this is something that Theresa May obviously wished to avoid.

It is during the votes on those amendments that the 14 Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster could play a vital role, but they will not speak with one voice. The DUP will back the Government. The UUP and Independent MP Sylvia Hermon, who supported Remain, will likely do so too in recognition of the referendum result. The SDLP will be the only voices from here in opposition.

Sinn Fein, for all its protestations about the negative effects of Brexit, will stick by its abstentionist policy and rely on the Republic to press its case in Europe.

While Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, it must abide by the decision of the UK-wide electorate to leave. That poses a dilemma for local politicians as fears are growing of a hard border that would seriously damage trading relations between the two parts of this island.

Brexit will take two years to negotiate, but there's no certainty we will have a functioning devolved government by that stage if the current toxic relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein persists.

So that will put additional onus on MPs to press the province's case at Westminster. They may not agree on whether leaving the EU is a good or bad move, but they must speak with one voice in ensuring that the best possible deal - taking into account our peculiar interests - is pursued during the divorce negotiations.

Hopefully that will concentrate minds when the parties sit down after the election to begin negotiations on resurrecting devolution.

Their focus should be on showing the world that they are capable of working out their political differences and that Northern Ireland is a place that is open for business with all parts of the globe.

Brexit will force politicians as well as businesses in Northern Ireland to become more outward looking and avoid the parochial mindset that often suggests the world owes us a living.

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