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Sharp words after Remain parties says DUP out of touch with majority in Northern Ireland

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has accused the DUP of being out of touch with majority opinion on Brexit in Northern Ireland.

The party's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill was speaking as she joined other pro-Remain leaders to meet business and civic society figures in advance of next week's House of Commons vote.

But the DUP hit back, branding Sinn Fein "glorified spectators on the sidelines" of Brexit, who are failing their constituents.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens met trade unionists, university representatives and members of the community and voluntary sector at Stormont.

Ms O'Neill said: "What we have here today is 'unprecedented unity' among representatives of civic society, business and the four parties.

"There is no good to come from Brexit. There is broad agreement between our parties and the various representatives at today's discussion that we must protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.

"Brexit presents a major threat to all the sectors represented in terms of the risk to EU funding for community projects and university research, educational opportunities in the EU and the dilution of workers' rights."

She continued: "The DUP are clearly on the wrong side of the argument.

"They are setting their face against the wishes and best interests of the vast majority of citizens by continuing to push for a hard Brexit and opposing the Withdrawal Agreement.

"That agreement is not perfect and neither is the backstop contained within it.

"However, it is the least worst option and remains our best insurance policy against the worst excesses of Brexit on the island of Ireland."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The SDLP have been clear that we support the draft Withdrawal Agreement because of the backstop. It is reckless for anyone to say that there is an alternative to the backstop, there is not.

"Our people here cannot and will not be allowed to be left at the whim of a hard border, that is simply unacceptable.

"A rejection of this deal on the basis of the backstop will only bring us back to square one.

"No matter what happens next week in the House of Commons, the backstop is non-negotiable."

Responding to the Sinn Fein criticism, DUP MP Gavin Robinson accused the party of "grandstanding" over the DUP's opposition to the deal.

He said: "Sinn Fein opposition to Brexit is hollow and is massively undermined by their abstentionist approach. The seven republican MPs are glorified spectators on the sidelines. Their votes won't even count.

"Their seven MPs could wield influence in the House of Commons, but instead they choose to take their money but boycott the chamber. They fail those seven constituencies."

Mr Robinson claimed Ms O'Neill was "jumping on board the latest bandwagon" to make her party's MPs relevant.

"Indeed, Sinn Fein's new-found energy regarding the European Union was almost non-existent during the actual EU referendum campaign in 2016," he said. "The DUP is opposing the Withdrawal Agreement because it is bad for Northern Ireland and the UK."

The East Belfast MP continued: "Northern Ireland would be locked into taking rules from Brussels with no democratic say on those rules.

"Indeed, over time our rules and regulations would diverge away from the rest of the UK, our main market.

"Alongside my colleagues, we will use our seats to get a better deal for Northern Ireland."

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