Belfast Telegraph

Brexit chaos will 'seriously damage the union' warns former UUP leader Lord Empey

Ulster Unionist Lord Reg Empey
Ulster Unionist Lord Reg Empey
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Former UUP leader Lord Empey has said that the ongoing Brexit chaos at Westminster will cause serious damage to the union if not resolved.

He made the comments after a particularly hostile week in the House of Commons with Prime Minister Boris Johnson coming under fire due to his use of language in the chamber. 

The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for describing a bill intended to prevent the UK leaving the EU with no-deal as a "surrender act"and responded to concerns around threats to MPs with "humbug".

Lord Empey said that it had been "a week to forget" in Westminster with the behaviour on display being "deeply depressing and creating deeper divisions in our country".

The Prime Minister has resisted calls to apologise and on Thursday his key advisor Dominic Cummings said the only way the issue of threats and abuse will be solved is if MPs “respect” the result of the EU referendum.

Lord Empey said that the behaviour in Parliament this week looked more like "rival football supporters arguing over a decision of the referee".

"We are presenting Brussels with no incentive to reach an agreement with the government because they cannot be sure that any change to the backstop would pass through either House, and London continues to fail to put a meaningful alternative on the table. Opponents of Brexit are also trying to overturn the result of the referendum," the UUP grandee said.

“The Ulster Unionist Party is the only party that has brought forward any written proposal that tries to address the worst aspects of the backstop, yet at the same time fully respects the right of the single market to protect its consumers.

“We also recognise that not all the problems are technical - indeed we see more politics here than practicalities. Yet at the end of the day, both of these aspects must be addressed.

The former UUP leader said that "vultures are circling" to take advantage of the Brexit chaos.

Referring to comments from SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon that she could support Jeremy Corbyn as temporary Prime Minister, Lord Empey said that the SNP would support a Corbyn government in return for a second Scottish independence referendum.

He said that unionists in Northern Ireland could no longer rely on the DUP to protect the union at Westminster.

“Ongoing Brexit chaos is going to seriously damage the union if it is not resolved. With the changing Parliamentary arithmetic, the DUP's influence is evaporating. Thursday's vote on a recess for the Conservative Party Conference was defeated by 17 votes even with the DUP supporting the Government, so unionists can no longer rely on the DUP to ride to the rescue of the union ," Lord Empey said.

The former East Belfast MLA said that some Brexit supporters would gladly see the break up of the union if it meant Brexit being delivered.

“To secure the union, we need widely based support in Westminster. Throwing in one's lot with the ERG wing of the Conservative Party will not achieve that. Indeed, there are some pro Brexit supporters who would be happy to get a clean Brexit, even if that meant sacrificing Northern Ireland's place in the union, and their support for Scotland is not much better," Lord Empey said.

“We need a solution. In the remaining time available we must work for a deal. A deal works for unionists as well as all people in the UK. The political chaos in London benefits nobody.”

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