Danny Kennedy says no deal Brexit would damage the north's economy and threaten the union
ULSTER Unionist European candidate Danny Kennedy has said a no deal Brexit will damage the Northern Ireland economy and undermine the union with Britain.
But despite voting to remain in EU, the former regional development minister opposes a second referendum and instead advocates a "sensible Brexit".
Launching his European election manifesto in Belfast yesterday, Mr Kennedy paid tribute to Jim Nicholson, who is retiring as an MEP after more 30 years.
Once the UUP was effectively guaranteed a seat in the Brussels and Strasbourg parliaments but its prospects this coming Thursday are more uncertain.
The party is fighting the election on a platform that acknowledges the 2016 referendum result and wants it delivered with Northern Ireland "leaving on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom".
However, the UUP wants a soft Brexit but no "border down the Irish Sea".
"There won't be a border between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and there can't be a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain," Mr Kennedy said.
He said leaving the EU without a deal was "not an option".
"We simply can't afford to take a step into the unknown," he said.
"I understand that people are keen to see Brexit delivered but it has to be done in a way that protects business, our agrifood sector and gives maximum opportunity to our young people for the future."
He said a no deal Brexit was "not in Northern Ireland's interests and certainly not in the interests of the pro-union population here".
"No deal has the potential to do serious damage, if not fatal damage, to many of our industries," he said
"As someone who loves Northern Ireland, I could not stand up and advocate that and I am astonished that anyone who loves the union as much as I do would be prepared to tolerate that."
The former Newry and Mourne MLA said nationalism was attempting to use Brexit as a "key opportunity to realise their ultimate ideal" and an "excuse for a border poll".
"That is why it is vital that I am returned as a pro-union voice who will help to bring some certainty, rather than the instability being offered by those who will seek another referendum, whether on EU membership or Irish unity," he said.
UUP leader Robin Swann said Thursday's election was "about who you want to represent you in Brussels now, not a re-run of a vote taken in 2016".
"It is about looking to the future, and the future relationship that the United Kingdom - including Northern Ireland - has with the European Union," he said.