Northern Ireland news

PLATFORM: Tony Lloyd

Tony Lloyd is Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Tony Lloyd MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

For two years now the UK's exit from the European Union has dominated political discourse in the UK and in Northern Ireland in particular. You could almost hear the sigh of relief when Theresa May announced she'd got a deal with the EU. Uncertainty was at an end, there would be no “no deal” scenario and Northern Ireland's long-term future was sorted out. So it's no surprise that there was a clamour to say this deal was better than no deal. But then harsh reality dawned; this was and is a bad deal for Northern Ireland and for the rest of the UK.

The last two weeks have seen the entire process heat up with cabinet resignations and childish moves by Tory backbenchers to unseat the Prime Minister. The deal she expected to unite those who voted leave and those who voted remain, can't even unite her own cabinet. And it cannot get a majority in Parliament .

Many in Northern Ireland's business community endorsed the deal because of the inclusion of what has come to be known as the “backstop”. After two years of no clarity on the future from the Government, I can understand the position these groups have taken. But they, like my own constituents in Rochdale, have been let down by the Government.

The collective sigh of relief from the business community has been replaced with many people both in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain asking why. Why should people accept a deal that builds in uncertainty, the very thing the withdrawal deal was supposed to avoid?

The backstop was part of the agreement signed off by Theresa May and, whilst rejected by some, it has been welcomed by others as though it is the final landing point. It is not. In practice the future relationship has yet to be negotiated (and when the withdrawal deal was published this future framework was outlined in all of seven pages of vacuous waffle).

Even if we were to end up in the regulatory and customs regime envisaged within the backstop we would see complications arise in the supply chains for goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. For example within the draft withdrawal agreement, the UK Government has committed to provide access for goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain , but, and this is of fundamental importance, not from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. And it is a commitment that the UK Government can end unilaterally. I honestly believe the months of wrangling designed not to protect our national interest but to paper over the cracks within the Conservative party over Brexit, should give no one in Northern Ireland the belief that their interests will be protected by this government.

Labour cannot back Theresa May's deal because it shows a real lack of ambition for Northern Ireland's future. Michel Barnier has made it clear that if the red lines change so too can the negotiations and Labour would seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU and a new comprehensive single market relationship. This would protect our economy and jobs, and end the uncertainty and the need for the backstop. We believe there is a majority for Labour's vision in the UK Parliament and a recognition from Europe that this is better for everyone.

Over the next few weeks the Government will try and tell you we have a choice to make, between Theresa May's deal, or no deal at all. This is not true. It is a false choice put forward by a Government desperate to push through their Brexit at any costs through the House of Commons. Parliament can and must take control of the process, it can ensure no deal can never happen. It is time for the Prime Minister to stand up for the interests of all people in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK and if she refuses to do so, Labour is prepared to provide the leadership this process truly needs.

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