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Brexit deal: There must be no ambiguity over Northern Ireland's position, says UUP chief Swann

By Michelle Devane

There must not be any "ambiguity" about Northern Ireland's place in a post-Brexit UK, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said.

Mr Swann said the next 24 to 48 hours in the negotiations would set "the direction of travel for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom for decades to come".

"The bottom line for the Prime Minister, the Conservative Government and their partners in the DUP must be the achievement of a sensible deal which respects the result of the referendum and maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom," he said.

"There must be no ambiguity, constructive or otherwise, in any deal about Northern Ireland's place within the Union in a post-Brexit UK.

"To do otherwise would be a serious blow against the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent, and will set a dangerous precedent for the future.

"I have made my views very clear to Downing Street. Given the Prime Minister's very strong statements in support of the Union, I certainly hope that this will not be the case. We will carefully study the text of any deal when it is published."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed reports that the UK and EU had agreed a text on the border in Ireland, but he said any agreement must include a backstop.

Mr Eastwood said: "The SDLP are glad to hear that an agreement might have been reached and we look forward to reading the text of that agreement in detail.

"If the agreement involves a backstop that protects Ireland from a hard border then we would hope it will gain support in Westminster."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described reports of an agreement as "encouraging" but he expressed "caution" on a number of grounds ahead of any publication of an agreed text.

"An open-ended backstop in place until or unless it is superseded is critical to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border in Ireland," Mr Farry said.

He added that it was important people were "measured" in their reaction to the backstop and do not contribute further to "unnecessary dramatising of something that should be seen in pragmatic terms".

"Ultimately, the backstop is only an insurance approach to Brexit," he said.

"There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the deal must represent a "cast iron" guarantee that there would be no hard border.

"Last December a joint report by UK and EU negotiators was agreed in which it was stated there would be no hard border in Ireland. The Taoiseach assured us that this was a 'cast iron' guarantee," she said.

"The withdrawal agreement must give legal effect to that 'cast iron' guarantee. While we await the publication of this document, it is a matter of concern that some are presenting the backstop agreement as temporary.

"Brexit is for the long-term and what is required is a durable, permanent and legally robust agreement that safeguards Irish interests and ensures there is no hard border on the island of Ireland."

A crunch Cabinet meeting will take place today to discuss the deal reached by negotiators in Brussels. UK Cabinet ministers were invited to read the draft deal papers last night ahead of the special meeting "to decide on next steps".

Belfast Telegraph

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