Northern Ireland news

Alliance's Stephen Farry: Northern Ireland's Remain voice must be heard on Brexit

Stephen Farry, deputy leader of the Alliance Party. Picture by Mal McCann
Stephen Farry

TODAY, four Remain parties are presenting a united front for the interests of Northern Ireland. This follows a similar visit to Brussels, and will be followed later this week with a meeting with the taoiseach.

There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit, either for the UK as a whole or in particular this region. The local special circumstances need to be addressed.

The DUP is not representative of Brexit opinion in Northern Ireland, and are not defending our real interests.

Indeed, their current course of not only objecting to the backstop but pursuing the hardest Brexit possible is foolhardy, especially for the cohesion of the UK. This is now compounded through manufacturing a crisis and betrayal narrative around the backstop.

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Northern Ireland has nothing to gain from Brexit. Taking back control is a delusion against the gains from sharing sovereignty.

Restrictions on immigration run contrary to the business consensus that understands the need for free movement of labour.

The so-called independent trade policy offers nothing when the EU is already the largest and nearest market for the UK, has a wide network of free trade deals and is better placed to do more.

By contrast, any Brexit poses huge challenges for a society which can only operate based on sharing and interdependence, and for an economy which depends on both north-south and east-west links for supply chains and sales.

It would be best for the UK to reconsider Brexit itself. Failing that, the UK could minimise economic disruption and avoid internal friction through a new permanent Customs Union and staying in the Single Market.

The need for a backstop only arises as these options have so far been ruled out. Consideration of the backstop is often framed in the narrative of the UK government and DUP, as something being imposed upon Northern Ireland or something we need protected from.

The backstop does not change or threaten Northern Ireland's constitutional position nor does not it undermine trade with Great Britain.

Instead, there is a pragmatic acceptance across a wide spectrum of people, including most businesses, that the backstop is important as a safety net.

Yet, an insurance policy, it only amounts to third party, fire and theft rather than being fully comprehensive.

It is the minimum of what is required to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border.

But, if necessary, it can be a platform on which to build a wider special deal as the future relationship is developed. Indeed, this could position Northern Ireland to be a bridge between the Great Britain and the wider EU market.

To get a Withdrawal Agreement now, and to avoid a catastrophic no deal outcome, the backstop needs to be agreed.

The UK government needs to stop tying itself up in knots in trying to avoid following through on what it has already committed to in the December 2017 Joint Report regarding the backstop being open-ended and all-weather.

Only that can give the people in both parts of Ireland the minimum assurances they need.

:: Stephen Farry is the deputy leader of the Alliance Party

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