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Rare consensus as five political parties unite for Remain campaign


SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood


SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Five of Northern Ireland's political parties have united in a rare display of cross-community consensus to campaign against the "madness" of leaving the European Union.

Northern Ireland Stronger In Europe kicked off in Belfast yesterday backed by the SDLP, Ulster Unionists, Alliance, Sinn Fein and the Greens.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the overarching concern among the parties supporting EU membership "goes above any problems or disagreements at Stormont".

He said a Leave vote would set Northern Ireland's economy back "years or decades".

"Europe was a very good friend to us. It paid peace money to us, to stabilise our peace process," he said.

"We can't let that go. I'm not interested in putting barriers between communities, businesses and families." UUP MLA Philip Smith said it would be "madness" to leave the European Union.

"We can't afford that risk. Unless someone can come up with some fundamentally clear plans forward, then I think it's a leap in the dark."

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Alliance leader David Ford said, from a crime and justice perspective, leaving the EU would make areas of law such as European arrest warrants almost impossible.

"We should remain for the economy, for society, for peace-building, and from what I've seen in the past six years, for justice co-operation," he said.

"There would be very significant effects on business.

"We've seen all the serious economic reports showing what it would do to household incomes."

Green Party councillor John Barry said there was a "rare outbreak of political consensus" on the issue.

"It shows you that parties who fundamentally disagree on key issues have come to an agreement on one," he said.

He added, for the Greens, worker and human rights, along with environmental protection, were among the key reasons for staying.

Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein's chairman, said the best way to reform an "imperfect" EU was from the inside.

"It is important that we don't fall into the trap of Project Fear," he added.

Businessman Tom Kelly, who is chairing the campaign, said it was a "genuinely cross-community" decision.

"People are not voting along traditional lines. I think this is one referendum where people are saying: 'This is about the future'," he said.

"This is their (young people's) future. The biggest threat to this is apathy, people thinking they are going to win."

The DUP is the only major local party to support a Brexit.