Northern Ireland news

Stormont pro-Remain parties in London for Brexit meetings

The leaders of Stormont's pro-Remain parties – Naomi Long, Colum Eastwood, Michelle O'Neill and Steven Agnew. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE leaders of Stormont's four pro-Remain parties will be in London today for a series of meetings ahead of the Brexit negotiations entering a crucial phase.

As talks between the EU and UK over a withdrawal agreement reach a critical stage this week, Sinn Féin the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens plan to highlight the continuing concerns of Northern Ireland's pro-EU majority.

The party leaders will be meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the four parties would be displaying a "crucial show of unity at a crucial time".

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The Mid Ulster MLA said the parties would be stressing how "the DUP and British government do not represent the cross-community majority of people in the north who voted against Brexit".

"The Brexit negotiations are now in a crucial phase and this is another crucial show of unity when we will once again be asserting our common position that the backstop as already agreed must be maintained," Ms O'Neill said.

"The backstop is the absolute bottom line for Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party as we enter the endgame of the Brexit negotiation process on Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU27."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was important that the voice of "those of us representing the majority view in the north" is heard.

He described the British government's approach to the negotiations as "shambolic".

"It's time they realised that the backstop, which they previously agreed to, can not be temporary," he said.

"It isn't perfect but it is our ultimate protection."

Writing in The Irish News today, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the EU's backstop "does not change or threaten Northern Ireland's constitutional position".

"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," the North Down MLA said.

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

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said he would be in London pushing the case for a second referendum.

"The call for a People's Vote is being heard more loudly than ever before – there is cross party consensus for a final say on any deal with senior Tory figure Jo Johnson the latest to call for a People's Vote," he said.

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