Giving extra Irish MEP seats to the north would be 'breach of sovereignty', DUP says
Any plans to give the Republic's extra seats in the European Parliament to Northern Ireland after Brexit would be a "breach of sovereignty", a DUP MLA has said.
Peter Weir told a key Brexit conference in Belfast today that his party would strongly oppose any attempt to allocate the two seats the Republic will gain after Brexit to the north.
"If there was an attempt to allocate two seats to Northern Ireland it would be a complete breach of sovereignty, a breach of the consent principle and indeed if we're trying to de-escalate the problems I think it's about trying to bilateral solutions involving the UK and the Republic of Ireland," he said.
Mr Weir said if the Irish government was "seen to jump in to infringe that level of sovereignty, particularly with the issuing of two seats, that will only exacerbate problems".
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He was speaking at the Post-Brexit Citizenship Status conference, co-convened by the Committee on the Administration of Justice and UNISON, at Queen's University Belfast.
The number of seats in the European Parliament will reduce from 751 to 705 after the UK leaves the European Union on March 29.
The UK will give up its 73 seats.
Around 46 are to be held in reserve to accommodate new countries that may join the EU.
The rest of the seats will be redistributed to 14 other EU states, including the Republic, which are under-represented in the chamber.
The Republic will see its total number of MEPs rise from 11 to 13.
Mr Weir joined other politicians including SDLP MLA Claire Hanna; Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile; Green Party MLA Steven Agnew; Alliance MLA Stephen Farry and Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt to discuss a range of issues around Brexit, including the possibility of a second referendum and the rights of citizens
Mr Ó Donnghaile said Brexit had exposed a lack of certainty about citizens' rights.
He said even if a second referendum were to be held on the UK's membership of the EU, a "rubicon had been crossed".
"What I'm being told as an Irish citizen in the north is that I don't have any rights," he said.
He added: "What Brexit has shown is that there is a disparity in terms of the Good Friday Agreement rights that we voted for north and south, overwhelming, 21 years ago is that those rights haven't been fully realised."
Ms Hanna agreed with Mr Ó Donnghaile that a rubicon had been crossed but said she still remained positive.
"We can still surf or deal with those implications without Britain being politically on fire, without our economy being destroyed," she said.
"If Brexit has taught me anything, and I'm thinking of getting a tattoo of this, constitutional change doesn't solve your problems, so going full speed ahead with the next vote regardless of what happens with the single market and our economic ties to me is ridiculous."
Mr Agnew said a majority of people in the north voted to remain and that decision should be respected.
He said although the possibility of a special status for the north had "long since sailed" the backstop to ensure an open border is retained in the event of a no-deal Brexit should be adhered to.
"When we went to the EU (Chief Brexit negotiator Michel) Barnier essentially said 'thank God you're here, all we've heard from is the DUP."