Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: Special EU status for North post-Brexit is common sense solution

By Michelle O'Neill, MLA

The people in the North voted to remain in the EU. Yet on March 29 Theresa May signalled to the European Council the British Government's intention to leave the EU and drag us out.

The first phase of a two-year negotiation on Brexit started in June and prioritises the British Government 'divorce bill' financial settlement with the EU, the rights of EU citizens, and how Brexit will impact Ireland.

Brexit Poll: Should NI have referendum on staying in Customs Union? If so, how would you vote?

The EU made clear this Brexit process must safeguard the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, the rights of citizens, North-South co-operation including no hardening of the border. Yet there was no serious offer of workable political solutions by Britain.

Theresa May has been given until today as an "absolute deadline" to spell out how she intends to precisely resolve these issues.

Her meeting today with president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, comes at a critical juncture.

The EU is waiting to see what she will present as "sufficient progress", and what this means for our island.

Last Friday the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, visited Dublin.

He said if the British Government's offer on the border is unacceptable for Ireland, then it will also be unacceptable for the EU. This strong stance is welcome.

It will be a test for the Taoiseach to stand up against the British Government, DUP and the right-wing Press if she fails to bring forward certainty and clarity for citizens and businesses.

The DUP are Theresa May's partners in this sorry mess.

They are showing a reckless disregard for the people who elected them for self-serving party gain in London.

I have been back and forth to London and Dublin and met with the key EU negotiators in Europe.

I made it clear the DUP do not speak for the cross-community majority here who voted Remain.

No one has made a credible case we will be better off outside the EU - how we will maintain cross-border services such as the cancer centre at Altnagelvin or the freedom to travel and trade across the EU.

Brexit will mean our economic growth will be hampered because of our restricted competitiveness and market reach.

The cost of doing business here risks being sky high due to imposed trade tariffs and regulatory divergence.

All of this against a backdrop of brutal Tory austerity, severe cuts to the block grant and limited public investment.

The lie is that Theresa May says Brexit represents stability when it does the opposite.

The EU fully recognise the unique and special circumstances in Ireland and the need for a bespoke solution. We believe this means special status for the North remaining within the EU, including the customs union and single market.

This is a common sense, practical and achievable solution. And despite the claims of the DUP, it will not change the constitutional position of the North.

We are told Brexit is happening and just accept it. I will never countenance such a complete abdication of political leadership.

We are at a crucial juncture in the process. The Irish Government have a veto and must demand clarity and certainty from the British Government.

However, it is not up to the Irish Government alone.

When we voted in the referendum, we voted as a single community united to remain in the EU.

We all must stand up to challenge those promoting Brexit.

It is therefore essential now that every sector of society, regardless of political allegiance, who want to protect our interests and future, speak out and make sure the European Council hear our voice and we make it count.

The stakes are too high, and to do anything less is surely not an option.

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