DUP MEP Diane Dodds said her final act in the European Parliament was to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement.
Northern Ireland’s three MEPs were in Brussels on Wednesday for their final plenary session ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU on Friday.
Ms Dodds and Alliance leader Naomi Long voted against the deal, while Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson voted for it.
And so the debate begins. pic.twitter.com/tbEDHYOb5A— Diane Dodds MLA (@DianeDoddsMLA) January 29, 2020
Ms Dodds clarified that her vote was “not a vote against Brexit”.
“I campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the EU, not for part of the UK to be treated differently and continue to be under EU control via a Joint Committee,” she said.
“As a unionist from Northern Ireland I have never wanted to see the return to the borders of the past with the Republic of Ireland.
“However, the focus on this trade should never have been to the exclusion of the far larger and more important market for Northern Ireland within the rest of the United Kingdom.
Going into vote in the European Parliament Brussels to ensure no hardening of the British border partitioning Ireland— Martina Anderson MLA (@M_AndersonSF) January 29, 2020
job done pic.twitter.com/UzRm3IpGwa
“Many of those who have latterly come to oppose barriers to trade within the Irish Sea were curiously silent previously because their focus was blinkered on that north-south axis.”
Ms Dodds said challenges for Prime Minister Boris Johnson included delivering “upon the promises he has made about unfettered access to the United Kingdom internal market”.
Ms Anderson voted for the withdrawal deal, describing it as an “ugly compromise – but it’s better than a crash out Brexit”.
She concluded her address saying there would be a day when people from Northern Ireland would be represented again by Irish MEPs, in reference to her party’s aspiration towards a united Ireland.
The Withdrawal Agreement has passed: but the hand of friendship, the spirit of cooperation, the commitment to working together in the best interests of all of our people.#DemandBetter #BridgesnotBorders #Friendship pic.twitter.com/9SlOz5UQSN— Naomi Long MLA (@naomi_long) January 29, 2020
Speaking outside the chamber, Ms Anderson described her vote as “giving consent to make sure that there is no harder border in Ireland, to prevent customs posts being erected in Ireland, to ensure there is no barbed wire in Ireland”.
“I stand here as a very proud member of Sinn Fein, we have punched above our weight in the European Parliament because before this everyone was talking about Scotland, no one was talking about Ireland,” she said.
Ms Long expressed her regret at Brexit during her final speech in the European Parliament.
She voted against the withdrawal deal and described the day as one “of profound regret”.
“The people of Northern Ireland rejected Brexit in 2016 and we are certainly not in agreement with this insular, isolationist and reckless course of action,” she said.
“The people of Northern Ireland will never withdraw the hand of friendship, the spirit of co-operation and the shared determination to secure peace and prosperity for all of our people. I am grateful to the EU, which has helped to shape our peace and which provides a model for pragmatic, win-win politics, not based upon division but embracing of diversity.”
Ms Dodds and Ms Long have gone on to become ministers in the newly reformed devolved government in Northern Ireland, with the former at the helm of the economy portfolio and the latter serving as justice minister.