Belfast Telegraph

Claire Hanna: Having reached this critical Brexit juncture, we can't let our focus slip now

Claire Hanna
Claire Hanna

By Claire Hanna

Many people are fed up hearing and talking about Brexit. For people in Northern Ireland in particular, it has meant wasted years hearing about issues like identity, the border and sovereignty that the rational mechanisms of the Good Friday Agreement were designed to help resolve.

We should have been debating matters like reconciliation, social justice, economic equality and regeneration, which is what all political action should really be about.

Brexit has sundered the body political and social consensus in unimaginable ways.

Boris Johnson is relying on Brexit fatigue to bounce Parliament into the revised withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU-27 this week.

I am glad that this week's revised deal means that almost certainly there will be no border on the island of Ireland, thanks to the strenuous efforts of Dublin and others.

However, the revised deal is worse than the one negotiated by Theresa May.

It introduces new levels of bureaucratic complexity and is noticeably silent on matters like workers' rights, social justice and the rebalancing of the global economy.

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Any deal, of course, is far worse than the deal we already have: remaining in the EU.

Any deal will damage GB's economy, causing significant collateral damage to Ireland, North and South.

I have supported the People's Vote campaign since its inception.

I spoke at the Ulster Hall rally on September 14 alongside Clare Bailey MLA, Naomi Long MEP and Dominic Grieve MP.

On Saturday I spoke at the 'Together for a Final Say' rally at London's Park Lane.

The numbers attending were huge, with some estimates that over one million people took part - young, old, male, female, all shades of background and a very wide range of political opinion.

The mood of the people was good-humoured, particularly when news filtered through that the Letwin amendment had passed, meaning an extension must be sought by the Johnson government.

This gives time for the deal to be properly scrutinised, legislated for and, hopefully, amended.

Crucially, it gives hope that the risk of no-deal crash-out on October 31 is removed in the coming days.

In my speech, I talked about the cross-party, cross-community coalition of support here for remaining in the EU in Northern Ireland, encompassing business, trade unions, agriculture, retail and most of civil society.

I made clear that the DUP's 10 MPs speak only for a diminishing minority here.

I explained that the Good Friday Agreement, inspired by and modelled on the EU's founding principles, was about being able to compromise without losing identity or sacrificing principle or aspiration, and that both institutions allow us to work together for common good.

I said that if it happens, Brexit reintroduces the borders and divisions of the past and that borders limit our ability to tackle global challenges like the climate emergency, tax justice, war and humanitarian relief.

In particular, Brexit narrows and stunts the possibilities and futures of our young people.

I can understand the frustration, worry, and even boredom that people feel about Brexit now.

The last three years have created real uncertainty for businesses and people who want to create jobs, and has undoubtedly damaged relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland.

A bad Brexit will have consequences for all of us for many years to come.

We are at a crucial juncture. Whilst it may seem expedient, or even desirable, to seek closure after three long years, future generations need us to get this right.

  • Claire Hanna is SDLP MLA for South Belfast

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