Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's Remain parties unite to attack PM's U-turn on backstop

Theresa May
Theresa May
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Northern Ireland's pro-Remain parties have joined forces to accuse Theresa May of an "enormous act of bad faith" in seeking to renegotiate her Brexit deal with Brussels.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance, and the Greens repeated their support for the border backstop.

They said abandoning it would threaten the gains made in the Good Friday Agreement and they called on the EU to ensure it was protected.

In a joint statement issued last night, they said that while they opposed Brexit, the Prime Minister's original deal with Brussels represented the best way forward.

They added: "With only eight weeks until the UK exits the EU, the four pro-Remain Assembly parties - Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Greens - are united in our support for the backstop negotiated by both the European Union and the British Government.

"We continue to believe that there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit, and any opportunity to reconsider Brexit should be taken.

"We believe that while the withdrawal agreement is imperfect, it will mitigate against a bad Brexit, which is being imposed against the democratic will of a majority of citizens here who decisively voted to remain within the European Union."

The four parties described the backstop, as outlined in the withdrawal agreement, as a "vital insurance policy which avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland".

They said: "While it may never need to be deployed, the backstop is the guarantee in all circumstances that no hard border will be re-established on this island.

"Prime Minister Theresa May and her government, in their attempts to abandon the backstop, have demonstrated an enormous act of bad faith.

"Abandoning the backstop would put at real risk the interests, rights and entitlements of the citizens, households, businesses and the Good Friday Agreement endorsed overwhelmingly in 1998."

The parties said that while The House of Commons had come out against a no-deal Brexit earlier this week, it was not a legally binding vote. "Therefore no steps have yet been taken to prevent a catastrophic crash out from the EU on March 29," the statement said.

"The EU has been crystal clear in stating that they will not reopen the negotiation on the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop.

"We urge the EU to remain firm in that position and we call on the British Government to reconsider the reckless path that they have adopted."

The controversial backstop would see Northern Ireland adopt a different regulatory framework to the rest of the UK if a wider trade deal failed to materialise after the end of the Brexit transition period.

The mechanism, which would see the whole UK remain in a customs union with the EU, faced huge opposition in the Commons.

A parliamentary amendment seeking an alternative to the backstop was passed by MPs on Tuesday, with Mrs May subsequently signalling her intent to go back to the EU to try to renegotiate that aspect of the deal.

However, Brussels has said that the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation.

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