Belfast Telegraph

Remain MLAs’ letter to Tusk ‘proof that no unionist backs deal’

Sensible deal: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sensible deal: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has said that an open letter from Northern Ireland's pro-Remain parties to Donald Tusk shows that the backstop doesn't have unionist support.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was speaking after Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Greens wrote to the EU Council president.

The correspondence signed by a majority of MLAs - 49 from the four parties - expressed support for the controversial backstop and voiced fears of a no-deal Brexit.

It wasn't signed by unionist MLAs nor People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll.

Sir Jeffrey said: "The signatories to this letter demonstrate that the backstop does not have the support of representatives from both communities in Northern Ireland.

"The withdrawal agreement fundamentally undermines the Belfast Agreement as it would erect a new 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 EU."

Sir Jeffrey accused those who "pedal scare stories about barbed wire and soldiers on checkpoints" of being irresponsible.

"Neither London nor Dublin have any plans to go back to the borders of the Seventies and Eighties even in a no-deal scenario," he said.

"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.

"If the European Council president 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."

TUV leader Jim Allister claimed the letter exposed those who "claim to be above the politics of unionism and nationalism" as really "part of a pan-nationalist front, embracing the Sinn Fein ambition of moving the border to the Irish Sea".

He said: "The backstop is an EU/nationalist ploy to break up the UK. Once more the anti-unionist Alliance Party is emerging in its true colours.

"Not only is the backstop bad for the Union, it is bad for business as it will have a huge impact on the Northern Ireland economy, given our annual 'imports' from Great Britain." UUP leader Robin Swann said: "This letter and its contents come as no surprise. However, it doesn't mean they are correct. They give no recognition to Northern Ireland's place within the UK and the fact that we conduct the vast majority of our trade with Great Britain.

"Rather than protecting the Belfast Agreement, the backstop represents a direct threat to it. It undermines the principle of consent and short-circuits democracy."

He said the current withdrawal agreement wouldn't pass through Parliament. "Unless the EU and Irish Government change tack, then the backstop could deliver the hard border it was supposedly intended to prevent," he said.

"The EU may be tempted to try and give the British Government a bloody nose, but the repercussions of that would last for years to come, especially in Northern Ireland."

In their letter to Mr Tusk, the MLAs 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."

Noting that the proposed Brexit date of October 31 was fast approaching, they added: "We trust that the approach adopted by the European institutions to defend all that we have achieved will continue in the weeks ahead."

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