Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Remaining in the EU is better for Northern Ireland than Boris Johnson's deal, says Steve Aiken

Steve Aiken
Steve Aiken
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Steve Aiken, who is the front-runner in the race to become UUP leader, has said the UK would be better off remaining in the EU than taking the latest proposed Brexit deal.

He said if the Prime Minister's proposal was the only option, he had to advocate for remaining in the EU - and would stand on that platform to secure his party's leadership next month.

He said he had been talking across all the membership of his party as well as business groups and farming groups and what he was saying would come as no surprise.

He said it was the mandate he was standing on to take the helm of his party and the direction it would take under him.

"Northern Ireland businesses, NI people and NI needs certainty, right now there is no certainty," he said.

His comments come after the DUP said it could not back Prime Minister Boris Johnson's proposed deal to allow the UK to leave the EU by the end of the month.

The party said it could not support what was being suggested on customs and consent issues and there was also a lack of clarity on VAT.

Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds and the party chief executive Timothy Johnston have held a series of meetings with the Prime Minister this week.

MEP and Alliance leader Naomi Long described the party response as a "soft no" which suggested the party had moved on its previous red lines.

MLA Steve Aiken said it was looking increasingly likely Northern Ireland would be "hived off" from the rest of the UK.

He also said remaining in the EU would save NI from a united Ireland.

"Everybody is not realising there needs to be another solution to what is in effect Northern Ireland becoming a place that is very separate," Mr Aiken told the BBC Stephen Nolan show.

"One of the questions we need to ask is are we better off where we are now (rather) than going down these alignments? That seems to be the case.

"At the present moment in time, I think we would be better off remaining. It is much better than moving down to this form of joint authority.

"This would be the biggest fundamental re-writing of the Belfast Agreement since the St Andrews Agreement. And we know how badly that turned out."

He described the current proposals as a "disaster for Northern Ireland".

He added: "For the good of Northern Ireland - and what will make Northern Ireland work again - very clearly we needed a solution that works.

"We have been putting forward solutions that made sure there were no borders north, south, east or west."

The UUP backed remain in the 2016 referendum but backed Brexit following the outcome saying it respected the democratic will of the people.

Asked if he was a remainer now, Mr Aiken responded: "I supported remain to begin with. The democratic will of the people of the UK was that we were going to leave, the UUP looked to get a deal that worked for NI and also we need to make NI work again. That is what we pushed to do and that's what we tried to do... and that has evolved to having two borders including one down the Irish Sea."

He said leave voters in Northern Ireland had to ask themselves if the deal on the table represented exiting the EU.

"And the answer to that is no," he continued.

"For people in NI, it is clear. Boris Johnson's deal is bad for us, the best thing for us in many respects is to stay in."

Mr Aiken is the only candidate in the race to become the next UUP leader. The party is to meet on Saturday, November 9 to select its new leader.

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