Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin blames Tories for Brexiteers' amendments as rivals criticise abstentionism

Sinn Féin's seven Westminster representatives refuse to take their seats due to the party's century-old policy of abstentionism. Picture by Laura Lean/PA Wire

Sinn Féin has rejected criticism of its Westminster abstentionist policy after rivals claimed republicans had damaged Ireland by handing victory to hardline Brexiteers.

The south's two biggest parties joined the SDLP in blaming the absence of Sinn Féin MPs for the outcome of Monday night's razor-edge votes on the British government's customs bill.

They claim amendments secured by Brexiteers undermine agreements between the UK and EU aimed at avoiding a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit.

None of Sinn Féin's seven Westminster representatives take their seats due to the party's century-old policy of abstentionism.

In a tweet this morning, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Sinn Féin abstentionism had handed victory to "hardline Brexiteers".

Fine Gael's Charlie Flanagan also pointed the finger of blame at Mary Lou McDonald's party, while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said those who claimed Westminster didn't matter should "wake up".

"Sinn Féin gift Theresa May a win over Brexit – SDLP MPs would have been there to stop Tories," the Foyle MLA tweeted.

One of Monday night's amendments – the insertion of a legal guarantee that there will be no post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – appears to undermine the terms of the co-called "backstop" position agreed by the UK and EU last year, which stated that Northern Ireland would remain subject to an EU customs regime if a wider trade deal failed to materialise.

Another amendment that could have implications for the backstop – that the whole of the UK will leave the EU's VAT regime – was was one of two only passed with a majority of three.

But Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane deflected criticisim, saying "Westminster and the Tory civil war is what has caused this problem".

"There was no vote on the border in the Irish Sea amendment and the overall bill passed by 33 votes so the notion that Sinn Féin MPs could have had an impact is a red herring," he said.

The Waterford TD said even the British government had previously conceded that Sinn Féin were "strongly influencing" the Brexit negotiations.

He said Sinn Fein would continue to represent the 238,000 voters who endorsed its abstentionist platform.

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