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TUV's Allister blasts parties as 'EU's fifth column' out to halt Brexit

By Suzanne Breen

TUV leader Jim Allister has accused Northern Ireland's pro-Remain parties of trying to undermine the Government's Brexit negotiations with the EU.

He was speaking as the leaders of Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Greens came together to insist that the DUP did not represent the majority of views here on Brexit.

In a rare move they presented a united front at Stormont, calling for the UK to remain in the single market and customs union after EU withdrawal.

They said it was the only way to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border.

Representing 49 of the Assembly's 90 MLAs in a region where 56% voted Remain, the party leaders accused Westminster of not paying heed to majority opinion here, and instead indulging the DUP.

Mr Allister said: "It is a matter of great regret but not surprise that we have politicians doing their utmost to undermine the UK Government's efforts to negotiate with the EU in respect of the referendum mandate by the people.

"These fifth columnists are clearly on the side of the EU, which is doing its best to punish the UK and make life as difficult as possible for UK citizens."

Speaking at Stormont yesterday, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said the EU negotiators needed to hear "loud and clear" that people here wanted to remain within European structures.

"It's important that we share this platform on the issue of Brexit because the majority of people voted here on a cross-community basis to remain within the EU, that is the position which we are true to," she said.

"For my part, the DUP don't speak for people in the North, so it is important that we come together, those who share a common view in terms of the implications of Brexit, who share a common view in terms of what needs to happen next."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the parties were not adopting a "political" position, rather a "sensible" one.

He claimed elements of the DUP were also "warming" to the idea of continued alignment with the EU in terms of customs and single market rules.

"It's absolutely clear we are all from different political parties, from different perspectives," he told the cross-party event in Parliament Buildings.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the Government was not hearing the majority opinion in Northern Ireland.

"They are only hearing the most extreme voices in terms of Brexit. That is not a healthy democratic situation," she said.

"The issue of Brexit is not one which will only affect nationalists or only affect unionists - it will affect every single person who lives in this region and many who live outside but who rely on this region for trade and investment." Green Party leader Steven Agnew said: "The people of Northern Ireland voted to remain and their voices are not being adequately represented. That's why we have come together today to do just that."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the joint statement was "silent about the catastrophic damage that would be done to Northern Ireland if we were to be separated economically from our main market in the rest of the United Kingdom".

He added: "It is devoid of reality since even the Labour Party has made clear that the UK is leaving the single market and cannot stay in the customs union.

"Any so-called backstop arrangement must be a UK-wide solution because the DUP position is very clear, that there can be no border in the Irish Sea."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the UK response to the 'backstop' position must be robust in the next round of Brexit talks.

He said: "The UK Government, the EU and all the Northern Ireland parties have said they do not want a hard border on the island of Ireland, so upcoming negotiations need to see a tone that reflects this shared objective."

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