Naomi Long: Botched Brexit would make a united Ireland more likely

Naomi Long, the Alliance Party leader talks to the Irish News at Stormont Picture by Hugh Russell.

Alliance leader Naomi Long believes a "botched Brexit" will increase support for a united Ireland.

The East Belfast MLA told The Irish News that the British government's "insensitive" attitude to the north had the potential to destabilise the devolved institutions and she warned against Downing Street "riding roughshod" over the region's wishes.

Speaking ahead of the her party's annual conference this weekend, Mrs Long said Theresa May's government was showing an "indifference and ambivalence" towards Northern Ireland's needs.

She said failing to heed concerns from both nationalists and unionists about the impact of Brexit could lead to increased support for Irish unity.

"I think a botched Brexit could potentially make that prospect (a united Ireland) greater," she said.

"Our needs are very different from the south-east of England yet what I think what we are having is a Brexit tailored around the demands and needs of the conservative south-east, which is not paying heed to the needs and demands of Northern Ireland."

The Alliance leader said she supported special status for the north which maintained cross-border free movement of goods, services and people.

Video: Naomi Long on what she will remember Martin McGuinness

Mrs Long criticised the Conservative government's 'Brexit means Brexit' mantra, which she said meant "nothing".

"If the government doesn't soften that line then I believe they are destabilising the process here because what they are doing is showing a kind of indifference and ambivalence towards Northern Ireland's needs – that sends out all sorts of negative messages right across the community," she said.

"I don't think you can deal with something as complicated and challenging as Brexit with a series of clichés – they need to row back from that and they need to soften their language for a start," she said.

She said Downing Street needed to work closely with the Irish government "not just as joint custodians of the Good Friday Agreement but as the nearest neighbours most directly affected by Brexit".

"If they can agree on how they are going to handle these issues then Northern Ireland and the assembly can be secure and peaceful but if they continue to ignore the will and the wishes of the people then they do damage to the whole process," she said.

Commenting on the current talks process, the Alliance leader said agreement on the restoration of devolution was possible by Monday but that she was not optimistic that the deadline would be met.

"I'm confident that it is possible to make progress by Monday but I don't see the kind of intensity of engagement or detailed work being done that suggests there will be agreement," she said.

"And that causes me some concern because I think if people were serious in terms of their engagement then at this stage we would be looking at quite detailed aspects of exchange rather than dealing with generalities."

Mrs Long said she was "unconvinced the will is there".

If agreement was not found she said another assembly election would only serve as a "vanity project".

"What purpose will another election serve that the last one didn't other than giving parties another bite at trying to top the poll?" she asked.

"I really don't see it changing the dynamic, it doesn't change the issues or the problems and in all likelihood it will return the same mix of people."

The Alliance leader said her party had consistently called for Arlene Foster to step aside over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal but that it was "not a precondition".

She said the buck stopped with DUP leader in terms of responsibility for a potential RHI overspend of £490m and that Mrs Foster should apologise.

"Part of the reason we are where we are now is because Arlene has found herself incapable of accepting responsibility," she said.

"She has said that she regrets it but regret is quite different from saying sorry – there are many things that have happened that I regret but I wasn't responsible for them and I'm not apologising for them."

Mrs Long said corresponding situation at Westminster would have seen the minister responsible resign.




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