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Granting Stormont Brexit powers hands DUP a veto and won't wash: Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill with party colleagues at Stormont yesterday
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill with party colleagues at Stormont yesterday
EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier

By David Young, PA

Handing the Stormont Assembly a "veto" on Northern Ireland's post-Brexit trade rules would be unacceptable, Sinn Fein has said.

Party vice president Michelle O'Neill criticised the notion amid speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May may seek to secure a greater role for the devolved government as a way to win DUP support for her withdrawal deal.

The Assembly has been in cold storage for two years following the collapse of the last Sinn Fein/DUP-led power-sharing administration.

If it was to be resurrected, the institution's voting structures mean large groupings of unionist or nationalist MLAs can effectively wield a veto, known as a petition of concern, even if a majority of other MLAs are in favour of a course of action.

Ahead of a visit to Brussels today, Mrs O'Neill stressed that the majority of MLAs were Remainers.

"It's important to put in context that the majority of elected representatives are opposed to Brexit, so in terms of giving the Assembly and the DUP a veto on any of those things in the future, that will not be acceptable to Sinn Fein and I dare say it'll not be acceptable to the other (pro-Remain) parties," she said.

Mrs May has also pledged to obtain assurances from the EU indicating that the implementation of the contentious Irish border backstop would only ever be temporary. The DUP, which sustains the Government in power through a confidence and supply arrangement, has heavily criticised a measure that would see Northern Ireland adhere to an EU regulatory framework if a wider trade deal between the United Kingdom and EU proves elusive.

It believes the backstop would undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating an economic border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Mrs O'Neill said the DUP and Brexiteers were living in "fantasy land" if they thought the EU would drop the backstop.

"I think the EU have been very consistent in saying they are not opening up the withdrawal agreement, so you can have some sort of verbal gymnastics around letters and assurances but the backstop is the bottom line," she said.

She will travel to Brussels with Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald for talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and a range of European politicians.

"We will be making it clear in all of those meetings that neither the DUP nor the British Government speak for the people of the north," said Ms McDonald.

"The majority of people of the north voted to reject Brexit.

"The DUP and the British Government cannot be allowed to undermine our peace agreements, economy or rights of citizens.

"There can be no hard border in Ireland.

"The backstop option already agreed between the EU and British Government cannot be set aside."

"It is important that the EU and Irish Government continue to ensure that Irish interests are maintained in the coming days and weeks as Brexit looms," the Sinn Fein leader added.

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