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Belfast Agreement needs to be honoured, Sinn Fein tells Corbyn

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald speaks to pro-EU protester Steve Bray in London, ahead of a meeting with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald speaks to pro-EU protester Steve Bray in London, ahead of a meeting with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has told Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that the Good Friday Agreement must be protected and a hard border avoided after Brexit.

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Party president Mary Lou McDonald delivered the message to Mr Corbyn at a meeting last night in London.

Earlier, Ms McDonald accused Secretary of State Karen Bradley of not having a "deep appreciation" of Irish politics.

She claimed Mrs Bradley had made "erroneous and dangerous" comments about voting rights in a potential border poll.

The Secretary of State recently sparked controversy when she appeared to suggest that Irish citizens living in the UK could not vote in such a referendum. The Government later moved to clarify her remarks.

Speaking after meeting Mr Corbyn to discuss Brexit, Ms McDonald said: "We made clear to the leader of the Opposition the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement which Labour helped negotiate and to ensure that a hard border on the island of Ireland is avoided.

"Brexit fundamentally alters the relationship between all of Ireland and Britain. It will cause economic hardship, undermine citizens' rights and threaten the progress of the past 21 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement."

Ms McDonald said the majority of people in Northern Ireland wanted to remain in the EU.

"There is no good Brexit. The Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop ... provide the minimum safeguards required to protect our economy, rights and avoid a hard border," she added.

The Sinn Fein president said the EU had agreed in 2017 that in the event of Irish unity, the whole island would remain in the EU. "The British government want to impose Brexit on the North. If that happens, the pathway back into the EU is clear," she said. "All shades of opinion in the North are now questioning the economic wisdom of the union with Britain."

Ms McDonald said that while remaining in a customs union might make sense for Britain, it did not solve the problem regarding Northern Ireland, which also needed alignment with the single market.

"These are the bare minimums required just to keep the lights on on our island," she said. "I think for our purposes we have to be clear that this Brexit saga cannot go on indefinitely - there actually has to be a conclusion, there has to be an end point.

"Irrespective of whether there's a deal or no deal or an extension of any duration, we are very clear, and the British political system needs to be very clear, that the commitments made to Ireland must be honoured."

While the Sinn Fein president met Mr Corbyn, the party's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill met Mrs Bradley.

Commenting on the confusion following the Secretary of State's border poll comments, Ms McDonald said: "Karen Bradley has proven not to have a very deep appreciation of Irish politics or the dynamic of Irish politics...

"I'm alarmed that more than 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the British Government insists that Irish people living in the north of Ireland are British.

"And I am concerned that the Secretary of State would make such ill-judged and inaccurate comments around people's right to vote in any potential unity referendum. That worries me and that does undermine public confidence in her."

Asked if Mrs Bradley should resign, Ms McDonald said it "wouldn't solve the problem".

She added: "The issue we have here as regards this government's stewardship of the peace process is far deeper and goes much wider than Karen Bradley."

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