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Still enough time to reach Brexit agreement, say unionists

Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds
Robin Swann
Michelle O’Neil
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said the fact there are just 100 days left until the UK leaves the European Union should focus minds on achieving a "sensible exit from the EU".

Mr Dodds said he wants the remaining time used "to secure the necessary changes to the legally binding withdrawal agreement that will be needed to secure the necessary support in Parliament".

He added: "Time was wasted by signing a deal in the face of mounting opposition and then attempting to sell that deal when it was abundantly clear MPs right across the House of Commons would not support it.

"If the European Union is truly serious about wishing to avoid a no-deal exit then agreement can be secured in the time that is left.

"The Government must continue to prepare for all eventualities. Those preparations must begin to include taking advantage of the opportunities available when the United Kingdom is outside the EU.

"Whilst the time available is limited, this can focus minds. If the Prime Minister demonstrates that she is not prepared to accept a deal only on the EU's terms then we can secure an agreement that will allow for a sensible exit from the European Union."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann wants to see the focus on getting the right deal for the UK.

"The last thing we need is the distraction of a second referendum," he said. "I would rather see the Government and Parliament focusing on getting the right deal over the next 100 days.

"It is absolutely vital that we expend all our energies on getting a deal with the European Union which preserves the UK's economic and constitutional integrity and provides a pathway to a positive trading relationship with the EU in the future. If that means extending Article 50 so that we are not boxed in by our own timescales, then so be it.

"The United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world so these are issues which cannot be addressed casually and recklessly. The impact will last for decades to come."

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill warned that a no-deal scenario is increasingly likely. She said: "News that the British Parliament is preparing for a no-deal Brexit is further evidence of the economic catastrophe their chaotic approach is leading towards.

"They have spent more time fighting among themselves and trying to placate the DUP and Brexiteers rather than dealing with the issues that actually need addressed.

"This reckless approach has made the prospect of a disastrous no-deal crash much more likely.

"We will continue working with the Dublin Government and the EU27 to protect the Good Friday Agreement and protect the backstop as our only insurance policy against a hard border and the economic catastrophe that would bring.

"But if that is not possible and Westminster insists on driving toward a no-deal crash, then a referendum on Irish reunification, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, must be called as the only sensible, logical and entirely rational response."

The SDLP's Claire Hanna is also fearful of a no-deal. "Brexit has brought with it extreme social, economic and political difficulties. It is vital that the UK Government do not let us drift into no-deal over the next 100 days, turning a crisis into a catastrophe," she said.

"The SDLP support a second referendum to confirm consent of the public for the impacts of Brexit, which would look very unlike the many promises made by the Leave campaign.

"People need to be aware that the backstop is essential for any Brexit deal - it is our insurance policy in the event that a more comprehensive relationship cannot be worked in the 'future relationship' phase of negotiations," she added.

Alliance's Stephen Farry said his party fears the UK is "careering towards the cliff-edge".

"Across the House of Commons there is a worrying failure to understand the basic choices and options available," he argued.

"Short of a decision to Remain, any other version of a managed Brexit involves a withdrawal agreement... Alliance's first preference is a People's Vote."

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