Unionists slam EU bid to move border in Ireland - Sinn Fein backs motion
Northern Ireland must not be bargaining chip in Brexit talks, warns DUP over EU border plan
A European Parliament motion for Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and customs union has been condemned by unionists but welcomed by Sinn Fein.
MEPs have concluded the move is the best way to ensure there is no border in Ireland. The resolution, which is expected to be passed next week, would mean continued free movement on the island.
Customs checks would take place instead at ports on the Irish Sea for visitors travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Rejecting the motion, DUP MEP Diane Dodds accused Brussels of using Northern Ireland as a "bargaining chip" in Brexit negotiations and said the principle of consent must be upheld.
Mrs Dodds also insisted Prime Minister Theresa May had pledged there would be no "internal borders" in the UK.
"Likewise, democratic unionists will not countenance any undermining of British sovereignty over Northern Ireland," she said.
"This includes any notion of a sea border that places any barrier between us and the rest of the UK.
"Our 10 MPs will use their influence to ensure that our place in the UK single market is not jeopardised by the machinations of Brussels."
Mrs Dodds accused those behind the motion of trying to override the principle of consent.
"The resolution is both hypocritical and inconsistent," she said. "Brussels should not be using Northern Ireland as bargaining chip in the negotiations."
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson welcomed the European Parliament's motion, which she said was a result of "intense lobbying" by her party.
"This resolution calls on the European Parliament to stress that the unique and special circumstances of the North of Ireland must be recognised in the Brexit withdrawal agreement and that the Good Friday Agreement must be protected in all its parts and be consistent with EU law," she added.
"It reinforces the right of people living in the North to Irish and therefore EU citizenship.
"It would also call on the British Government to come up with an 'effective and workable solution' to the issue of the border which would ensure the integrity of the internal market and customs union."
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said he was encouraged that the European Parliament was taking a keen interest in resolving the challenges Brexit poses for us.
Mr Farry added: "We do not want to see a customs border emerge either down the Irish Sea or across the island of Ireland. Either of those outcomes would have major political ramifications and would increase the cost of doing business.
"The surest way to avoid a hard Border is for the UK as a whole to agree a fresh customs union with the EU. In the event that the UK as a whole opts to leave the single market, the core of a special deal for Northern Ireland could be continued participation in the single market."
But TUV leader Jim Allister criticised the EU motion. "The suggestion that Northern Ireland should remain in the single market and customs union while the rest of the UK leaves is totally unacceptable," he said.
"Northern Ireland's leaving of the EU must be as complete as that of any other region of the UK. The direct consequence of this proposal would be to move the border to the Irish Sea - the ultimate Sinn Fein objective, of course.
"It is a trap for the destruction of the constitutional and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom."
Mr Allister said that there may be a case for special status, but for the Republic, not Northern Ireland. He also predicted that under Brexit the Republic would "feel the draught" if the EU "cuts off its nose to spite its face by insisting on tariffs".