Anti-Brexit parties says DUP doesn't reflect north's majority view

Naomi Long, Colum Eastwood, Michelle O'Neill and Steven Agnew at Parliament Buildings yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell

STORMONT parties opposed to Brexit have insisted that the DUP does not represent the majority view in Northern Ireland.

The assembly leaders of Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and Greens yesterday presented a rare united front in calling for the UK to remain in the EU's single market and customs union.

They believe that maintaining something akin to current customs arrangements is the only way to avoid a hard border.

The four parties together represent 49 out of the dormant Stormont assembly's 90 seats, in a region where 56 per cent voted to remain in the EU.

They claim the British government is not listening to the majority view and is instead indulging the Brexit-supporting DUP, which is helping prop up Theresa May's minority government through a confidence and supply deal.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the EU negotiators needed to hear "loud and clear" that people in the north want to remain within Europe.

"For my part the DUP don't speak for people in the north, so it is important that we come together, those who share a common view in terms of the implications of Brexit, who share a common view in terms of what needs to happen next."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the parties were not adopting a "political" position, rather a "sensible" one.

He claimed elements of the DUP were also "warming" to the idea of continued alignment with the EU in terms of customs and single market rules.

"It's absolutely clear we are all from different political parties, from different perspectives, but on this issue it's important that as many of us as possible stand together to make it very, very clear – to both the British government but also to the European Commission – that we cannot countenance a hard border in Ireland - equally we do not want to see a hard border or any kind of border down the Irish sea," he said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long insisted the issue was not one that could be divided along traditional green or orange lines, despite the absence of a unionist in the multi-party gathering.

Green leader Steven Agnew said: "The people of Northern Ireland voted to remain and their voices are not being adequately represented, that's why we have come together today to do just that."

However, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said retaining single market regulations or customs provisions would "erect barriers to trade with our biggest market" in Britain.

"The joint statement from the four parties is silent about the catastrophic damage that would be done to Northern Ireland if we were to be separated economically from our main market – ie the rest of the UK," the North Belfast MP said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann also said the European Commission's rejection of British government proposals would not serve the north's best interests.

"Clinging to the backstop is actually in direct conflict with saying you do not want to see a border along the Irish Sea," he said.

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