SF says EU must call time on British government stalling over Brexit

Mary Lou McDonald criticised last week's speech by Theresa May's in Belfast. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

THE EU must call time on British government stalling on Brexit, Sinn Féin's leader said last night as she urged Brussels to convene a special summit on the Irish border impasse.

Mary Lou McDonald said Michel Barnier should push for a gathering of European leaders as she met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator in Brussels.

After emerging from talks with Mr Barnier yesterday, the Sinn Féin president said she had received assurances that the EU was standing firm on its insistence that a border "backstop" agreed between Brussels and London must form party of the final withdrawal treaty.

Last December the EU and UK agreed that Northern Ireland would continue to adhere to a number of European customs regulations if a wider Brexit trade deal failed to materialise.

It was supposed to be a fallback position that would ensure a free-flowing border regardless of the terms of the UK's exit from the EU.

However, the two sides are at loggerheads on how to translate that agreement into a legally binding commitment in a potential withdrawal treaty.

Recent developments at Westminster have placed further question marks over the backstop, amid claims that Theresa May's Chequers deal and subsequent Brexiteer-driven amendments to British government legislation are incompatible with the December agreement.

Mrs McDonald, who was accompanied in Brussels by Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill, said an extra EU meeting is required in September to try to forge a resolution ahead of October's crunch summit – the effective deadline to secure a Brexit deal.

The Sinn Féin leader also criticised Mrs May's speech in Belfast last week, when the Tory leader made clear she would not sign up to any backstop that treated Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

"Last week's visit by Theresa May to Belfast has raised very serious concerns over the British government's approach to Brexit," Mrs McDonald said in Brussels.

"In December we were told that a 'backstop' was a cast-iron guarantee, that the Good Friday Agreement would be protected in word and spirit, and that there would be no diminution of rights for Irish and EU citizens in the north."

She accused the British government of "seeking to row back" on previous commitments and wanting "to bin the December agreement".

"The EU has made clear that without the 'backstop' there will be no withdrawal agreement and that the interests of Ireland must be dealt with in line with the December agreement," she said.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party had made it clear that the EU's interpretation of the backstop was not acceptable.

He said the 'border in the Irish Sea' scenario would "undermine Northern Ireland's economic and political integrity, cutting us off from our largest market".

"It has already been rejected by the government, the opposition and last week it was unanimously rejected by all parties in the House of Commons," he said.

"Business leaders have been unambiguous in highlighting the economic damage that internal borders within the United Kingdom would cause."

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