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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plans to break Stormont impasse and avoid a hard border

By Suzanne Breen

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is to call on the Prime Minister to re-convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to help break the political deadlock here.

In a speech at Queen's University in Belfast today, he will also make it clear that his party will not support a Brexit deal that results in a hard border.

Mr Corbyn's two-day visit to Northern Ireland is his first since becoming Labour leader.

The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference gives Dublin a consultative role in non-devolved matters concerning Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have been demanding that it is reconvened while power-sharing is suspended, but DUP leader Arlene Foster has dismissed it as a "talking shop".

Mr Corbyn is set to say: "Devolution and power-sharing have given every community a voice and helped maintain the peace process.

"If the current stalemate in Stormont cannot be sorted out in Belfast, I call on the UK Government to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

"We must step up to find a creative solution, in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, that avoids a return to direct Westminster rule and lays the ground for further progress for all communities."

On Brexit, Mr Corbyn will maintain that border checks can be best avoided by a UK-EU customs union - which would offer the UK a say on future trade deals - coupled with a "new and strong relationship" with the single market.

"Driven by the free-market fantasists within their ranks, the reckless Conservative approach to Brexit is a very real threat to jobs and living standards here in Northern Ireland and risks undermining and destabilising the co-operation and relative harmony of recent years," he will say.

"Labour will not support any Brexit deal that includes the return of a hard border to this island.

"But we are also clear there must be no border created in the Irish Sea either.

"That is why Labour has put forward a plan that would go a long way to solving this issue, a plan for which I believe there is a majority in Westminster."

Mr Corbyn will continue: "Opposition to the idea of bringing back a hard border to this land isn't just about avoiding paperwork or tariffs, important though that is, it's about deep-rooted cultural and community ties.

"An open border is a symbol of peace, two communities living and working together after years of conflict, communities who no longer feel that their traditions are under threat."

Mr Corbyn will argue that economic prosperity for Northern Ireland would strengthen the peace.

"Look back at the sacrifice and courage shown at all levels of society that paved the way for something that had once seemed impossible," he will say.

"That was the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

"We all need that spirit again - Stormont and Westminster parties, the British and Irish governments, business and unions, UK and EU negotiators - if we want to secure 20 more years of peace and greater prosperity for the many, not the few."

Calling for economic justice, he will continue: "Peace can - and must - be extended through real social and economic advances for all communities, with the state at regional and national level prepared to act to bring about a full-scale upgrade of the economy.

"While many economic decisions for Northern Ireland are rightly decided in Stormont, a Labour government in Westminster would make sure that Northern Ireland has more money to invest in its people and its public services.

"We will make sure the people of Northern Ireland do not miss out."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed Mr Corbyn here and called for him to back full alignment with the single market and customs union.

"I am delighted Jeremy Corbyn is visiting Northern Ireland at this critical time.

"The Labour Party played a key role in building peace and stability in the north," he said.

"Having met with Mr Corbyn recently, I recognise he shares our concerns at the lack of a functioning Assembly here."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill yesterday called on the Government to end its "do nothing strategy" and convene the intergovernmental conference.

Belfast Telegraph

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