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Conservative duo's border tech plan a fantasy: Sinn Fein

Boris Johnson at a hustings event in Belfast
Boris Johnson at a hustings event in Belfast
Jeremy Hunt at a hustings event in Belfast
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Political parties here hit out at Conservative leadership contenders Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson over their Brexit plans as they visited Belfast yesterday.

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Both hopefuls in the race for Number 10 faced pressure over how they would handle the UK's departure from the EU when they addressed party members at a hustings event in the Culloden Hotel as the Tory leadership contest enters its final weeks.

But Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said the Tories are not fooling anyone with fantasy proposals about so-called technological solutions for the border post-Brexit.

The South Down MP said: "Whoever ends up leading the Tory party, and if they then become British Prime Minister, they need to realise and accept that the backstop will not be renegotiated.

"The EU has made that abundantly clear on numerous occasions.

"And once again we heard the Tory leadership contenders repeating the same old nonsense about so-called technological solutions on the border.

"This suggestion has been rubbished by experts time and time again, yet the Tories' leadership contenders persist with this fantasy.

"The reality is the Tories and their DUP allies are dragging us headlong towards a no-deal Brexit, which means a hard border and economic disaster. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there needs to be a constitutional referendum as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"This gives people in the north of Ireland the opportunity and option of remaining in the EU though Irish unity."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said neither candidate had offered a clear picture of their proposals to resolve the border issue and remove the controversial backstop.

Mr Aiken added: "It is regrettable in the limited engagement between the two potential candidates for Prime Minister there was no clarity at all on the way ahead, either for the UK or indeed Northern Ireland, over the coming months on the crucial issue of Brexit.

"It is remarkable, however, that both candidates appear to have found £25bn hidden under the carpet - money that could and should have been used in recent years to relieve the immense pressures currently weighing down on our public services."

Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have said they would both seek to extend the Conservatives' 'confidence and supply' arrangement with the DUP.

Mr Johnson met DUP leader Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday, while Mr Hunt held discussions with the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds on Monday.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described yesterday's hustings as "a sideshow", saying the real business of the day was Mr Johnson's "courting of the DUP".

Mr Farry added: "There is every risk the Tory-DUP relationship, which has undermined and held back political progress here, may hit new depths.

"It would be particularly counterproductive if there is the impression the DUP are handpicking any future Secretary of State."

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