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SDLP's Eastwood calls on MPs to vote down Tory government

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
UUP leader Robin Swann
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has written to MPs urging them to vote down Boris Johnson's government.

In a letter to all 650 members, he claimed the Prime Minister neither understood nor cared about peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Describing the move to suspend Parliament as a "disgraceful" and "anti-democratic decision", he urged them to back a vote of no confidence in the PM.

Sinn Fein called the proroguing of Parliament "arrogant" and "a clear intent to force through a no-deal Brexit".

The Alliance Party said it was "cowardly and outrageous" while the Ulster Unionists said it appeared to be "an abuse of power".

Only the DUP, who will review its confidence and supply agreement propping up the minority Conservative-led administration before MPs sit again in October, backed the move.

Three Conservative members of the Queen's Privy Council took the request to suspend Parliament to the Monarch's Scottish residence in Balmoral yesterday morning on behalf of the PM.

It has now been approved, allowing the government to suspend Parliament no earlier than Monday, September 9 and no later than Thursday, September 12, until Monday, October 14.

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the decision, saying the party will continue its work with the Prime Minister to strengthen the Union, deliver a "sensible EU exit deal" and restore devolution in Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere, though, there was an angry reaction.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the decision appeared to be an "abuse of Executive power" by the Prime Minister and risks undermining public confidence in Westminster.

"This will unfortunately only create more division," he warned.

"If we want Parliament to pass an agreement with the EU before October 31, this isn't the way to go about it.

"The incendiary language being used by some politicians across these islands needs to cease. We should all work towards getting a consensus on a withdrawal agreement. If anything, it is the backstop which provides the greatest threat to the Belfast Agreement."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the move illustrates the "arrogance" and "contempt" of the Conservatives.

She added: "Today's move demonstrates clear intent to force through a no-deal Brexit, regardless of the consequences for Ireland, north or south.

"It shows the arrogance of the British Government and their contempt even for their own political institutions and it is very clear that Irish interests will never be protected at Westminster.

"The Tories have shown a total and callous disregard for our country and the democratically expressed wishes of the people of the north to remain in the EU.

"Sinn Fein will continue to stand up for our interests against Tory Brexiteers and their catastrophic Brexit agenda."

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said it meant a no-deal Brexit is now the most likely outcome and that Irish interests were not being protected.

But DUP MLA Gordon Lyons hit out at Sinn Fein's criticism, citing the more than two-year Stormont impasse. He said: "Sinn Fein have a cheek to complain about the prorogation of Parliament, meaning that it will be sitting for four fewer days than would otherwise have been the case, when they have been responsible for the Assembly being closed for the last two and a half years."

Mr Eastwood, meanwhile, slammed Mr Johnson for acting like "a tin-pot dictator", describing the move as "disgraceful" and "anti-democratic".

"Proroguing your parliament to enforce the will of a government that has no democratic legitimacy for an act that has no majority support is the behaviour of a tin-pot dictator," he said.

And in his letter to MPs last night, he wrote: "It is now clear that Boris Johnson does not understand the fragile complexities that underpin peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. More worrying, however, he clearly doesn't care.

"As the leader of a party that played a significant role in forging the Good Friday Agreement through difficult but courageous compromise, I am appealing to you to help protect the progress we have made.

"In these circumstances, I would urge you to back a motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

"The British Government's actions undermine its role as a guarantor of peace and stability in Northern Ireland. It should not, therefore, command the confidence of MPs."

Alliance leader Naomi Long called the suspension of Parliament a "cowardly and outrageous" move, which "follows in the footsteps of other dictators".

"This is more akin to something seen in an authoritarian state," she said.

"We have been told Brexit was about taking back control. However, parliamentary democracy is being undermined and sacrificed on the altar of Brexit, which puts us in extremely dangerous territory.

"It is the desperate act of a Prime Minister who knows Parliament opposes a no-deal but who will attempt to push it through regardless.

"It is utterly appalling the DUP are giving cover to this Parliamentary coup, when they know full well the severe effects a reckless no-deal will have on Northern Ireland."

TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed Mr Johnson's move, saying it is "time to get on with getting out". He added: "Three years on, the patience of the people has been exhausted.

"Today's news would appear to bring us closer to implementing the will of the people. Assuming it plays out like that, today will be remembered as a good day for democracy."

Belfast Telegraph


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