Focus in Ireland, north and south, remains on the backstop

Mary Lou McDonald warned the Taoiseach to `stand firm on backstop'. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE Irish government last night ruled out any renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement following its defeat in the House of Commons.

In a statement released by the Department of the Taoiseach two hours after the vote, Dublin described the agreement as "a fair and balanced compromise to a very complicated situation" following "lengthy and detailed negotiations" and its rejection increases "the risk of a disorderly Brexit".

"The Irish Government recalls the clear position of the European Council at its meeting of 13 December when it stated that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation.

"This was restated in the joint letter from Presidents Tusk and Juncker to Prime Minister May yesterday."

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The statement warned "a disorderly Brexit is a bad outcome for everyone, not least in Northern Ireland" and called on the British government to "set out how it proposes to resolve this impasse as a matter of urgency".

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Sinn Féin had warned the Taoiseach to "stand firm on backstop", as unionists urged the British government to seize the "opportunity to fix" the controversial clause following the Commons defeat of its Withdrawal Bill.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said parliament had "acted in the best interests of the entire United Kingdom" and insisted the party "will work with the government constructively to achieve a better deal".

Their `confidence and supply' agreement gives the Tories a small majority in the House of Commons.

"Mrs May will now be able to demonstrate to the Brussels's negotiators that changes are required if any deal is to command the support of Parliament.

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"...Reassurances whether in the form of letters or warm words, will not be enough. The Prime Minister must now go back to the European Union and seek fundamental change to the Withdrawal Agreement."

But Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said "Ireland's people, Ireland's economy and Ireland's peace process all need to be protected" following the vote.

"The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and our partners at a European level need to stand firm and not move away from or attempt to dilute the backstop.

"We need to say clearly to the British that if they wish to Brexit then that's a matter for themselves but any Brexit agreement needs to recognise, understand and protect the people, the economy and the peace process on this island."

And SDLP leader Colum Eastwood insisted "the reality (is) that there can be no deal without a backstop" and the belief a better deal can be negotiated "is merely postponing the inevitable".

"There is no such thing as a good Brexit but if we are forced to leave the EU then Northern Ireland must to be protected through a backstop.

"...That fact remains - there is no way to avoid a hard border in Ireland if Northern Ireland leaves the Customs Union and Single Market. That is why a backstop is essential."

But UUP leader Robin Swann called for the British government to "recalibrate its negotiating position.. and seek an extension to Article 50, then get the EU back to the negotiating table.

"The backstop needs dealt with and (the EU) know it. If they continue with their present intransigence, everyone will end up in a place where no-one wants to go."

However, the Alliance and Green parties both said the only option now is a `People's Vote'.

Alliance leader Naomi Long described the Brexit process as "defined by a flawed concept, incompatible red-lines, unrealistic expectations and imaginary solutions... (with) still no clarity on what the UK wants in terms of Brexit."

"Any negotiated Brexit will require a Withdrawal Agreement, including an open-ended, all weather backstop... It is now clear the only coherent way forward is to have a People's Vote."

Green Party leader Clare Bailey said a new referendum, with "the option to remain... on the table", is essential.

"The majority of people across Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and the polls tell us that most people would swing to remain if a vote happened tomorrow."

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll described the scale of the loss as "completely unprecedented in modern times and symptomatic of a huge political crisis".

Retail NI chief executive and vice chair of `Northern Ireland Stronger In', Glyn Roberts called on the government "to work on a cross-party basis with Labour and other opposition parties to reach a broader agreement for a withdrawal deal and secure the transition period, protect jobs and a positive future relationship with the EU".

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