Theresa May's Brexit deadlock plans 'wasted opportunity' say Stormont pro-Remain parties

Alliance leader Naomi Long, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT'S pro-Remain parties have hit out at Theresa May's plans to break the Brexit impasse as "superficial" and a "wasted opportunity".

The British prime minister vowed yesterday to seek changes from the European Union on the Irish border 'backstop' proposals and rejected calls to rule out a 'no deal' Brexit.

She insisted there was no majority in the House of Commons for a so-called People's Vote, warning that a second EU referendum could "damage social cohesion".

Mrs May also promised to give the British parliament "a proper say" in negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU.

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The Tory leader was making a statement to the Commons on the proposed way forward after MPs last week rejected her initial UK-EU deal by a record-breaking 230 votes.

Mrs May also announced she was scrapping a £65 fee for EU nationals wanting to remain in the UK after Brexit.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill last night renewed calls for a referendum on a united Ireland.

She said the "fulcrum of the Brexit crisis is the border in Ireland" and Brexit has "exposed the undemocratic nature and failure of partition in Ireland".

Speaking at an event in Derry to mark the centenary of the first Dáil, she said Sinn Féin has met with Mrs May and secretary of state Karen Bradley in recent months.

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"We have made it clear that in the case of a Brexit crash-out and no-deal scenario that it is absolutely incumbent on them to put the constitutional future to the people here through a unity referendum," she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the British government of a "superficial" commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

"Theresa May can't have it both ways. She cannot drag Northern Ireland out of the EU without agreeing the backstop and expect to avoid a hard border," he said.

Mr Eastwood also hit out at Sinn Féin MPs not taking their seats at Westminister due to the party's abstentionist policy.

"Politicians now need to yield the power given to them to stop this Brexit chaos. That's both in Westminster and in Stormont," he added.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long MLA said Mrs May's statement was a "wasted opportunity".

"Until she can accept she has mutually incompatible red lines and face up to the sharp choices available, then progress is not going to be made," she said.

She added: "The prime minister is arrogant to keep dismissing calls for either a People's Vote or an extension of Article 50 to avoid a catastrophic no-deal outcome."

But DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose Brexit-supporting party is propping up the Tories' minority government, welcomed the prime minister's statement.

"We want to see a consensus in the House of Commons around a deal which works for every part of the United Kingdom but also the European Union and our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland," he said.

"The backstop is the problem and that is where the focus must lie."

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