Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Statement will have zero influence on outcome

By Suzanne Breen

The Battle of Brexit is more controversial than the Battle of the Boyne in Northern Ireland these days. The latest salvo was fired in Parliament Buildings, Stormont, yesterday, as the leaders of our four Remain parties issued a joint statement saying we must stay in the single market and customs union.

The message sent out loud and clear, as it has been so often since the Brexit referendum two years ago, was that the majority of people here voted to Remain.

With the European Council meeting next month, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill stressed that time was of the essence.

"The joint statement we have agreed has been sent to both governments and the European Commission Brexit negotiators so there can be no doubt that our voice is being heard," she said.

"While we may not agree on everything as regards Brexit, we do share a common position that we cannot withstand exclusion from the single market or customs union.

"For my part the DUP don't speak for people in the North, so it is important that we come together."

Last week, the DUP said that by being the only local party with preconditions for returning to government, Sinn Fein was the odd one out in Northern Ireland politics. Yesterday, Michelle O'Neill's party returned the insult and cast the DUP as the irregulars.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood struck a more conciliatory tone when he said elements in the DUP were "warming" to the idea of continued alignment with the EU in terms of customs and single market rules. He's on the money.

Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson are militant pro-Brexit voices in the party but there are many others - with greater influence - who are prepared to be flexible with Brussels.

An opinion poll last week showed that Northern Ireland would support Remain more strongly if another referendum was held. A total of 69% would now vote to stay in the EU compared to 56% in June 2016.

Unfortunately for those who oppose Brexit here it wasn't a region by region by vote but one the UK took as a whole. Yesterday's joint statement will have zero influence on the outcome of Brexit talks.

The views of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens are already well known to the negotiators. But it's the DUP which holds the balance of power at Westminster.

Belfast Telegraph

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