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Hazzard dismisses call to end abstentionism

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Sinn Féin should end abstentionism. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Sinn Féin has rejected a call from the SDLP to end its Westminster abstentionist policy because of the Brexit crisis.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Sinn Féin needed to put the Irish national interest ahead of the party’s pride.

The Foyle MLA was speaking after Labour shifted its Brexit stance significantly by advocating membership of the EU single market and customs union for a transitional period.

The change in policy would mean accepting the free movement of labour after leaving the EU in March 2019.

Mr Eastwood said Labour's revised position had the "potential to change things on the island of Ireland".

"Votes on continued membership of the single market and the customs union at Westminster have just become very winnable," he said.

"That would mean preventing any hardening of the border in Ireland."

He said to date Sinn Féin had argued that its votes make no difference at Westminster.

"Now that the Labour party’s position has changed - Sinn Féin’s should too," the SDLP leader said.

"They should reflect on the fact that their continued abstentionism is only serving themselves instead of the broader Irish national interest."

But Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard dismissed the call, saying his party was sticking by its election pledges.

"Sinn Féin stood on an active abstentionist ticket in the Westminster election and were overwhelmingly endorsed by the nationalist electorate," he said.

"The SDLP lost all its seats after failing to produce a single example of substance to sustain their claim of making a difference by sitting in the British parliament – they are now asking Sinn Féin to pick up their failures where they left off."

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