Jeremy Corbyn has said sorting out the future trading relationship between the UK, Ireland and EU is more important than whether Brexit makes a united Ireland more likely.
Speaking during a visit to Stormont today, the outgoing Labour leader said it was time for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “make up his mind” about the kind of trading relationship he wanted with the EU- and the United States.
Asked if he thought Brexit had brought a united Ireland any closer, Mr Corbyn said: “Clearly the issue that is important at the moment is one of dealing with the immediacy of funding and trading arrangements.”
He highlighted that many major companies in Northern Ireland relied on European trade.
“They need to know they have a future and I think that’s a more important priority than anything else,” he said.
“The Prime Minister promised that there would be no border down the Irish Sea and then, as was revealed during the General Election debates, that it’s quite clear there’s going to be some kind of tariff arrangement.
“The Prime Minister must clarify this.
“If he wants a trade agreement with Europe — which he says he does — then they are not going to allow a trade arrangement with Britain which automatically undercuts consumer and environmental rights compared to Europe, while at the same time he is trying to do a trade arrangement with Donald Trump’s USA, who are moving in entirely the opposite direction.”
He added that the Prime Minister “still does not have an answer to the many questions raised by businesses and workers in Northern Ireland about the future trading relationship with the Republic, Britain and the rest of Europe”.
“It’s time for Boris Johnson to make up his mind.”
During his visit Mr Corbyn — who has often been criticised for his sympathies with militant Irish republicanism — met representatives of Assembly parties, describing the meetings as “informative”.
There were, of course, no Labour MLAs for Mr Corbyn to meet during his visit to Stormont, as his party refuses to allow local members to stand for election under its banner.
Asked whether he had any regrets about banning Labour members in Northern Ireland from contesting elections, Mr Corbyn said: “As you know, our party is talking to Labour members in Northern Ireland, and our National Executive will be considering the issue again.”
Mr Corbyn said he had also met representatives of the trade unions Unison and Unite to hear about issues concerning them.
The North London MP also demanded more public investment in Northern Ireland, branding health inequalities here “appalling and disgraceful”.
Asked about ‘Brexit Day’ today, Mr Corbyn said: “Well, it’s going to be a day when many people will no doubt be concerned, because it’s unclear in the longer term what the process will be for sending goods from Northern Ireland to Britain.
“We will take back to Westminster a clear message from this visit: the assembly is up and running, the Executive is up and running — and as the party which brought about the Good Friday Agreement, Labour is particularly pleased and proud of that.
“But that has to be followed up with the necessary resources to ensure resolution of the public sector pay issues, and it also has to bring clarity to the future trading relationship which will protect jobs and businesses across Northern Ireland.”
The Labour leader was accompanied by Tony Lloyd, the party’s Northern Ireland spokesman .
Mr Corbyn also signed the book of condolence for the late Seamus Mallon, the former SDLP Deputy First Minister.