Brexit

Colum Eastwood frustrated by Jeremy Corbyn's backstop stance

Colum Eastwood said Jeremy Corbyn was putting 'political opportunity' ahead of securing a soft border. Picture by Hugh Russell

COLUM Eastwood has said he is "bewildered" to hear Jeremy Corbyn reject the backstop element of the withdrawal agreement, while characterising the soft border guarantee as a threat to the union.

The SDLP leader was speaking after Labour MP Conor McGinn said Mr Corbyn risked alienating nationalists by "invoking the integrity of the union" in his opposition to Theresa May's Brexit deal.

It has also emerged that the Labour Party Irish Society has written to the party's 257 MPs voicing concern about its leadership's support for ditching the backstop, which guarantees a frictionless border.

Mr Corbyn has said the backstop would not feature in any withdrawal deal negotiated by a Labour government.

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But according to Mr Eastwood, the analysis from his sister party's leader is putting "political opportunity" ahead of securing a soft border.

"I have no problem with Labour MPs who have a genuine view that they can vote this withdrawal agreement down but in all circumstances the backstop must be banked," he told The Irish News.

"I find it really frustrating that Jeremy Corbyn has told us he recognises the needs of Northern Ireland and then chooses to use the backstop as the basis of his opposition to the deal."

Mr Eastwood said he was "bewildered" to hear the Labour leader say the backstop damages the union.

In its letter to MPs, the Labour Party Irish Society says it endorses the party's six tests for the withdrawal agreement but believes the backstop does not contravene these conditions.

"The backstop is not only about preventing infrastructure at the border – it is also about protecting the Good Friday Agreement," the letter says.

"Northern Ireland has a unique constitutional settlement within the UK so it was largely inevitable that it should have a unique Brexit settlement, as the DUP itself acknowledged in its 2017 manifesto, in which it called for 'Northern Ireland-specific solutions [to Brexit] achieved through active executive engagement'.

The society rejects the notion that the backstop would damage the integrity of UK and urges MPs to "challenge this narrative".

"As a society representing the views of Labour Party members of Irish descent and those with an interest in Irish affairs, we are extremely concerned that Labour would take the same line on the withdrawal agreement as members of the DUP and the ERG (European Research Group) who are re-dramatising the backstop," the letter says.

"We have a duty to be responsible in our approach to the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement."

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