Northern Ireland news

Stormont parties give cautious reaction to talk of Brexit deal

Green Party leader Steven Agnew, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill and Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry in London earlier this week
Michelle Devane, PA

STORMONT parties have given a cautious reaction to talk of a deal being agreed in the Brexit negotiations.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the withdrawal agreement on the UK leaving the European Union must give legal effect to ensuring no hard border in Ireland.

"While we await the publication of this document, it is a matter of concern that some are presenting the backstop agreement as temporary," she said.

"Brexit is for the long term and what is required is a durable, permanent and legally robust agreement that safeguards Irish interests and ensures there is no hard border on the island of Ireland."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed reports of an agreed text but said any deal must include a 'backstop'.

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"The SDLP are glad to hear that an agreement might have been reached and we look forward to reading the text of that agreement in detail," he said.

"If the agreement involves a backstop that protects Ireland from a hard border then we would hope it will gain support in Westminster."

However, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the deal as reported would leave Northern Ireland "subject to the rules and laws set in Brussels with no democratic input or any say".

"We object to that on constitutional grounds that our laws would be made in Brussels, not in Westminster or Belfast. That is the fundamental red line," he said.

Mr Dodds added that any regulatory checks between the UK and Northern Ireland "would certainly be a breach of the PM's pledges to the people of Northern Ireland (and) the pledges that she made to the people of the United Kingdom".

UUP leader Robin Swann said there must not be any "ambiguity" about Northern Ireland's place in a post-Brexit UK.

He said the next 24 to 48 hours would set "the direction of travel for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom for decades to come".

"The bottom line for the prime minister, the Conservative government and their partners in the DUP must be the achievement of a sensible deal which respects the result of the referendum and maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom," he said.

"There must be no ambiguity, constructive or otherwise, in any deal about Northern Ireland's place within the union in a post-Brexit UK.

"To do otherwise would be a serious blow against the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent and will set a dangerous precedent for the future."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described reports of an agreement as "encouraging" but he expressed "caution" on a number of grounds ahead of any publication of an agreed text.

"An open-ended backstop in place until or unless it is superseded is critical to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border in Ireland," Mr Farry said.

He added that it was important people were "measured" in their reaction to the backstop and do not contribute further to "unnecessary dramatising of something that should be seen in pragmatic terms".

"Ultimately, the backstop is only an insurance approach to Brexit," he said.

"There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit."

A crunch cabinet meeting will take place today to discuss the deal reached by negotiators in Brussels.

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