Northern Ireland news

Pro-Remain alliance 'intact' despite SDLP MLA's call for Sinn Féin to shelve abstentionism

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (second from left) with representatives of Stormont's pro-Remain parties. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

THE SDLP last night insisted that Stormont's pro-Remain alliance remained intact despite claims from one of its MLAs that Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy was allowing the Brexiteers to "get their own way".

A statement yesterday morning from SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said Sinn Féin had the opportunity to "save Northern Ireland from the brink of economic, social and political disaster" if the party's seven MPs backed the withdrawal agreement in Westminster.

The statement, issued by Mr McCrossan rather than his party's press office, came less than 24 hours after SDLP leader Colum Eastwood stood alongside representatives from Sinn Féin, Alliance and the Greens reinforcing their support for Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Sinn Féin has a long-standing abstentionist policy and in recent weeks has ruled out any possibility of the party taking its seats in Westminster and backing the agreement in a vote next Tuesday.

Mrs May needs the backing of 320 MPs to get the deal through and while it's unclear whether seven Sinn Féin votes would be decisive in swinging the vote, there have nonetheless been calls for republicans to ditch their abstentionist stance.

Mr McCrossan said Sinn Féin's votes "could make all the difference in preventing a hard Brexit".

"It’s time Sinn Féin used their mandate and it’s time they went to work," he said.

"It’s about time they actually practised equality, respect and integrity for the people of Northern Ireland – if they cannot, it’s time they stepped down to let someone who will."

Sinn Féin MLA Megan Fearon responded to the SDLP MLA's call by describing it on Twitter as a "boring narrative".

"Our mandate is to abstain from Westminster – it’s really not that difficult to grasp," she said.

A later statement from SDLP headquarters said the party's disagreement with the policy of abstentionism was well-documented but that the pro-Remain parties needed to stay united.

"We believe that it is very important that everyone use every opportunity available to protect us from Brexit – that includes participating in vital votes in Westminster," a spokesman said.

“However, we also believe that if is very important that pro-remain parties stand together in opposition to a hard Brexit."

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