Belfast Telegraph

Brexit a historic major mistake but unity crucial in protecting interests: Alliance MLA Farry

After four Northern Ireland parties strike Brexit pact, Alliance MLA Stephen Farry discusses the 'huge implications' of Brexit

Brexit is something that affects the entire community in Northern Ireland. It will have huge implications economically, socially, financially and politically.

Brexit is a historic mistake for the UK, with major knock-on repercussions for others.

Alliance’s primary focus is on finding practical and pragmatic solutions addressing the needs of all of the people of this region, the business community and wider civil society.

We believe the key priorities have to be to maintain open borders across these islands, and for the UK as a whole to be part of a Customs Union with the EU, and in terms of the Single Market, if not the whole UK continuing to participate, then Northern Ireland continuing to do so as a region.

Northern Ireland only works on the basis of sharing and interdependence. Therefore, this approach, and arguably only this approach, is consistent with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, devolution and the Principle of Consent. This is not a debate about sovereignty, but one of delivery.

We are determined to work in partnership with other political parties and across society. Indeed, we believe the people of Northern Ireland want and expect us to do so. It is encouraging there is some common ground on some key mechanisms, reflected in the joint statement from four party leaders this week. Indeed, I would like this consensus to grow and for other parties to reconsider their own positions.

The content of this joint approach also reflects the vast majority of voices from the business community, trade unions, and the community and voluntary sector.

This week’s survey on local attitudes to Brexit show the clear opportunity to create a cross-community consensus around a special deal for Northern Ireland. Brexit has become such a polarising issue within our politics, creating huge uncertainty. But this survey made clear there is strong support across the community for this approach.

The unified approach representing different voices is more important than ever as we approach a crucial phase in Brexit negotiations next month.

People often say they only hear politicians arguing – on this one, we have come together to look out for the best interests of the people we serve, on an issue which will shape our future for generations.

We saw an initial glimpse of that in the joint letter from Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness in August 2016 and subsequently at the North-South Ministerial Council in November 2016, but unfortunately this platform was never built upon.

We need to maximise co-operation and showcase the clear and concise view to the EU and others – the voice of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, as currently the only local voices being heard on Brexit are the most extreme. That is not a healthy situation.

A unity of purpose from politicians, businesses and wider society is crucial to reaching an outcome which protects the social, political and economic interests of Northern Ireland.

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