North's anti-Brexit parties ready to contest European election

If the UK stays in the EU beyond May 23 it may have to participate in elections to the European Parliament. Picture by Frederick Florin

NORTHERN Ireland's anti-Brexit parties have begun provisional preparations for May's European elections.

Although developments yesterday in Brussels appeared to lessen the likelihood that the UK would have to elect MEPs between May 23-26, a number of parties have signalled that they are carrying out groundwork just in case Brexit is further delayed.

The EU is keen to avoid a scenario in which the UK's 27 departing MEPs would have to be replaced in the Brussels and Strasbourg parliaments.

Those surplus seats have already been redistributed among the EU27, with the Republic seeing its number of MEPs increased from 11 to 13.

But Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance have all confirmed to The Irish News that they are ready to contest a European election if and when it occurs.

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Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said his party was "always prepared to fight elections".

"What is certain is that Irish citizens in the north will remain EU citizens even after we are dragged out of the EU against our wishes and, as such, have a right to stand for and directly elect representatives to the European Parliament – that right will remain in place after Brexit," he said.

The South Down MP criticised the Dublin government for rejecting calls to give northerners post-Brexit representation in the European parliament.

An SDLP spokesman said the party "remained on an election footing".

"We continue to believe that people here are best served in the European Union, with access to the Single Market and European fundamental freedoms. That also means we should have the opportunity to shape the future of Europe with democratically elected representatives in the parliament," he said.

"Given the pantomime unfolding at Westminster and all the uncertainty that entails, the SDLP has remained on an election footing and would be prepared to contest a European poll."

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An Alliance spokesman said the party has an "election campaign model" which could be implemented at short notice.

The Irish News asked Alliance leader Naomi Long if she would consider running as a candidate in a forthcoming European election.

The East Belfast MLA did not rule out the possibility, responding: "It would be a matter for the party to select a candidate in the event of a European election being called."

However, the Ulster Unionist Party, whose MEP Jim Nicholson has served as one of the north's three MEPs for almost 30 years, said it had not made plans to contest another European election.

"The Ulster Unionist Party has consistently started that the result of the 23 June 2016 Referendum must be respected," party leader Robin Swann said.

“Once Article 50 was triggered by parliament it was stated that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March."

The DUP did not respond to the query.

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