Belfast Telegraph

Backstop option for Brexit 'unacceptable': UUP's Nicholson

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has hit out at a fallback option included in Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU which could see a border placed in the Irish Sea.

Part of the December agreement which allowed negotiations between the UK and the EU to move onto the second stage was the condition that - should the UK fail to come forward with a better solution - a 'backstop' option would see Northern Ireland remain within "the customs territory of the Union".

In Brussels on Monday David Davis and Michel Barnier announced much of the agreement on the Brexit transition deal and the legal text of the UK's Withdrawal Agreement had been agreed and would allow talks to move onto the next stage.

As part of this, both sides reiterated a commitment to the December agreement and the provision for the 'backstop'.

Mr Nicholson said he had reminded Mr Barnier last week that "Unionists who voted remain in the referendum did not vote to be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom in the event of a Brexit vote".

“Any proposal that would effectively create a new international border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom should not only be unacceptable to any UK Government, it would be a breach of the Belfast Agreement which the EU has pledged to defend in these negotiations," he said.

“Northern Ireland is not up for sale. It is vital that the Government - and the DUP which is propping it up - maintains its firm commitments that it will not accept a final Brexit deal that diminishes in any way the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom."

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson Martina Anderson said that now the British government had accepted commitments it had made in December, it had to come up with credible proposals about how to bring the process forward.

"Despite denials from Theresa May there is now confirmation that the British government is accepting the agreements made, including the backstop option which would see the north remaining in the customs union and significant elements of the single market," she said.

“There must be no diminution in rights and no hardening of the border in order to give legal effect to what has already been agreed and what the European Parliament has voted on in successive resolutions."

In its statement, the DUP said: "The government and the European Union in the December Joint Report committed to no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and no borders or barriers to trade within the United Kingdom after the UK's departure. The EU's proposed draft legal text recently published has been rejected by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons and we agree it is totally unacceptable.

"We will continue to work with the government on these matters and will be guided by the principle that there can be no internal border within the United Kingdom if we leave the European Union."

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