Belfast Telegraph

Majority of Northern Ireland's MLAs sign letter to Donald Tusk supporting Brexit backstop

(Left to right) Green Party leader Clare Bailey, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry (Rebecca Black/PA)
(Left to right) Green Party leader Clare Bailey, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry (Rebecca Black/PA)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

A majority of MLAs have signed a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk saying that they support the backstop.

A total of 49 MLAs from Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance Party and the Green Party signed the letter calling on the "European Institutions to defend all that we have achieved".

The letter was not signed by MLAs from the DUP and UUP, TUV leader Jim Allister, independent unionist Claire Sugden or People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll.

There are currently 90 MLAs elected to the Stormont Assembly, which does not sit after collapsing in January 2017.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK will be leaving the European Union on October 31 with or without a Brexit deal in place and has repeatedly said the backstop has to go if a deal is to be achieved.

The controversial backstop plan aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, but Brexiteers and the DUP have claimed it could keep the UK aligned with the EU indefinitely and create a trade border in the Irish Sea.

After meeting Mr Johnson on Wednesday evening German Chancellor Angela Merkel set a 30-day deadline for coming up with an alternative solution to replace the backstop.

In the letter pro-Remain MLAs said they had "grave concerns" about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Northern Ireland.

They also expressed fears that Brexit could negatively impact community relations in Northern Ireland "particularly at a moment when those relationships are being tested".

The MLAs said the backstop was needed to protect the Good Friday Agreement, prevent a return to physical infrastructure at the border, and preserve the all-island economy.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the letter confirmed that all unionist parties opposed the backstop.

He said it was clear the backstop did not have the support of both communities and that it would undermine the Good Friday Agreement as it would erect a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

"The best way to protect the Belfast Agreement and enjoy a positive north-south relationship is to have a sensible deal as we exit the European Union," the Lagan Valley MP said.

"Those who pedal scare stories about barbed wire and soldiers on checkpoints are being irresponsible. Neither London nor Dublin have any plans to go back to the borders of the 70s and 80s even in a no deal scenario."

Sir Jeffrey said that Mr Tusk had an obligation to consider the views of unionists.

"The Belfast Agreement was about balancing the views of unionists and nationalists yet these parties want to foist a deal on Northern Ireland which every unionist party opposes. So much for those parties’ commitments to a shared future," the DUP MP said.

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk

"If the President of the European Council genuinely sees himself as a safeguard to peace and stability in Northern Ireland, then he will recognise the need to listen to the views of unionists.”

The full letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr Tusk,

The proposed date of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, 31 October, is fast approaching.

As leaders of local political parties who represent the cross-community majority who voted to remain in the EU we have grave concerns about the current trajectory toward a no-deal Brexit and the impact this would have on our economy, our border and community cohesion.

An analysis carried out by the Northern Ireland Civil Service has predicted job losses in the region of 40,000 if we’re forced from the EU without a deal. The British government’s own analysis has predicted significant disruption to integrated supply chains across this island rendering cross-border trade in our agri-food sector virtually impossible for many operators. It has also warned that the open border that has underpinned our political settlement would be unsustainable within months.

It is our view that the progress made in developing integrated and enduring relationships on this island, politically, economically and socially, over the last 20 years is far too important to abandon. Particularly at a moment when those relationships are being tested.

With that in mind, and with no functioning Executive or Assembly currently in place in Northern Ireland to give expression to the democratic wishes of people here, we write to you to confirm our support for the backstop contained within the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. It is our view that a legally operable guarantee to protect the Good Friday Agreement, maintain north-south co-operation and preserve the all-island economy and to prevent a return to physical infrastructure on our border or physical checks at or near the border is necessary to preserve the progress that we have made.

We trust that the approach adopted by the European Institutions to defend all that we have achieved will continue in the weeks ahead.

The letter was signed by:

Colum Eastwood MLA, Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party

Michelle O’Neill MLA, Assembly Leader and Vice President of Sinn Fein

Naomi Long MEP, Leader of the Alliance Party

Clare Bailey MLA, Leader of the Green Party

Chris Lyttle MLA               

Mairtin O Muilleoir MLA            

John Dallat MLA

Maire Hendron MLA       

Orlaithi Flynn MLA                           

Sean Lynch MLA

Gerry Kelly MLA                

Alex Maskey MLA                           

Jemma Dolan MLA

Nichola Mallon MLA       

Fra McCann MLA                             

Colm Gildernew MLA

Caral Ni Chuilin MLA       

Pat Sheehan MLA                            

Mark H Durkan MLA

Paula Bradshaw MLA     

Stewart Dickson MLA                     

Raymond McCartney MLA

Claire Hanna MLA            

Caoimhe Archibald MLA                

Karen Mullan MLA

Pat Catney MLA                

Conor Murphy MLA                        

Emma Rogan MLA          

Trevor Lunn MLA             

Philip McGuigan MLA                     

Colin McGrath MLA

Linda Dillon MLA              

Steven Agnew MLA                         

Kellie Armstrong MLA

Emma Sheerin MLA        

Stephen Farry MLA                         

Dolores Kelly MLA

Patsy McGlone MLA       

John Blair MLA                                  

John O’Dowd MLA

Cathal Boylan MLA          

Declan Kearney MLA                      

Maoliosa McHugh MLA

Megan Fearon MLA        

Sinead Bradley MLA                        

Catherine Kelly MLA

Justin McNulty MLA        

Sinead Ennis MLA                            

Declan McAleer MLA

Daniel McCrossan MLA

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