Leading article

Brexit crisis demands new political approach

As we head into a pivotal UK general election, against a background of increasing political turmoil, there will be significant interest in the open letter which we publish today from the civic nationalist group Ireland's Future to taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The central message in the statement, which is `Brexit has changed everything', is difficult to dispute and it is a theme which is likely to dominate the agenda until polling day on December 12 and beyond.

Some 1,000 prominent figures drawn from both sides of the border and as far away as the US have signed the communication, which stresses that a clear majority of Irish citizens, north and south, want to remain in the European Union.

It is worth pointing out that many unionists are deeply concerned about the implications of Brexit and it is entirely reasonable to request that the democratic wishes and rights of people from both main traditions are respected and protected by the Irish government.

The letter specifically seeks the establishment of a Citizens' Assembly which will be widely viewed as an appropriate way of reaching some form of consensus on the way ahead.

As this newspaper has previously said, it is also essential that the anti-Brexit vote is maximised across the board in the forthcoming election.

There will therefore be a general welcome for the decision which we report today by the SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon not to contest the North Belfast seat, allowing a clear run on the nationalist side for Sinn Féin's John Finucane.

Ms Mallon was entitled to say that unprecedented circumstances had arisen, and it will be noted that the withdrawal of the Ulster Unionist Party had already left the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds as the sole unionist candidate in the constituency.

There will be a firm expectation that related developments will follow in South Belfast, which also has a DUP MP even though an overwhelming majority there backed Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP are parties with separate policies and priorities, and they will undoubtedly compete against each other directly if and when another election for the Stormont Assembly takes place.

However, the scale of the Brexit crisis which has accelerated despite the clearly expressed views of voters here requires that a different approach is taken in next month's crucial Westminster contest.

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