Northern Ireland’s pro-Remain political leaders have warned Donald Tusk of “grave concerns” about the trajectory towards a no-deal Brexit.
The risk of thousands of job losses and disruption to cross-border all-Ireland trade was raised with the European Council president who chairs summit meetings of European leaders and helps broker compromise among member states.
An open letter was sent on behalf of the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long, the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and the Green Party’s Clare Bailey.
In the absence of an Assembly to make our view clear, a majority of MLAs has written to @donaldtusk today outlining our support for the backstop.— Colum Eastwood (@columeastwood) August 22, 2019
A legal guarantee is necessary to protect the Good Friday Agreement, prevent border infrastructure and preserve our economy. pic.twitter.com/cDv0DuG2J4
They wrote: “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.”
They said the proposed exit date of October 31 was fast approaching.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has given Prime Minister Boris Johnson 30 days to find an alternative to the Irish border backstop.
The Stormont politicians wrote: “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.”
They wrote to confirm support for the backstop contained in the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration which Theresa May was unable to get through Parliament.
The Northern Irish leaders added: “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.”
Northern Ireland’s largest party, the DUP, favours Brexit and had been propping up the Tories in key Westminster votes before it refused to support the Government over its proposed exit deal.
The DUP’s Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said a sensible deal was the best way to protect the 1998 peace agreement as he noted the absence of unionist support for the letter.
He said: “The Withdrawal Agreement fundamentally undermines the Belfast Agreement as it would erect a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
“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.
“Those who peddle 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.”
He said the Belfast Agreement was about balancing the views of unionists and nationalists yet the Remain parties wanted to foist a deal on Northern Ireland that every unionist party opposed.
“So much for those parties’ commitments to a shared future,” he said.
“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.”