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No Brexit contingency plan to deal, MLAs are told

By Noel McAdam

Angry Assembly Members have warned there is no contingency plan to cushion Northern Ireland from the "calamity" of withdrawal from the EU.

Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Alliance MLAs lined up to spell out the potentially disastrous consequences for the province of the verdict - which was opposed by a majority of voters here.

MLAs backed a motion urging the Executive to spell out the consequences of Brexit for Northern Ireland "in the immediate future".

Planned business was postponed to allow for the three-hour emergency debate with Speaker Robin Newton warning Members to be respectful and avoid high emotion.

Opening the debate, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt demanded to know why Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness did not have any contingency plan in place "to deal with this calamity".

He said the last Executive had easily matched its targets for the competitive drawdown of European funds, but now: "Why would the European Union give us money for infrastructure projects? What happens about corporation tax?

"Were we misinformed about the border and the Common Travel Area? I notice that the Taoiseach has said that he will do his 'best' to maintain (them), not that he guarantees it."

TUV leader Jim Allister shouted that Mr Nesbitt was "peddling falsehoods" after he said Northern Ireland was a net beneficiary from EU funds - remarks which Mr Nesbitt asked the Speaker to examine.

The DUP's Christopher Stalford said: "I said that I would be pleased if we got above 28% for 'Leave'.

"In the end, we got 30.5%, and I knew... that ordinary people, who do not come out and vote at election time, were fired up to come out and vote because they were fed up with being ignored by the media and political elite, treated with contempt."

His party colleague Edwin Poots added: "Most of the former leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party voted not to stay in the European Union, including past leaders Tom Elliott and David Trimble.

"Mr Nesbitt does not command the support of his own party."

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy argued: "It is the responsibility of all of us to try to navigate our way out of the mess we find ourselves in.

"Had the vote been to remain in Europe we would not face the huge degree of uncertainty and potential difficulty that we now face."

The SDLP's Alex Attwood said there was a "palpable sense" of loss, bewilderment and even anger - including loss of identity as well as funds - over the referendum verdict, and criticised the "bombastic approach" of the DUP.

He said nationalists found the decision "upsetting and with immense consequences" because they did identify themselves more as European, but that many unionists would agree.

"Because of last Thursday there is now a different dynamic in politics than at any time in the last 50 years," Mr Attwood went on.

Alliance leader David Ford said it was the biggest political, financial, institutional and constitutional crisis since 1945, and it was clear that the Leave campaign had no "Plan A".

"I wish the DUP had accepted the majorities in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, or indeed the majority at Belfast City Hall on flying flags. It cuts both ways," he said.

People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann, who was in favour of Brexit, asked who the European Commission was responsible to, before answering his own question - "the bankers".

Mr Allister said the UK had begun its rebirth, "taking our trade where the growth is, spending our own money on our own people".

He added that it was sad that the "bad losers" of Remain were still fighting the battle they lost.

Belfast Telegraph

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