Brexit

Backstop will not happen as EU and UK `will reach trade deal' - Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern said `there would in my view be no requirement for the backstop' as a trade deal will be reached

THE Withdrawal Agreement remains "fundamentally flawed" according to the DUP, with the party renewing its call for the British government to get "a better deal".

DUP parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds said the proposals around the controversial backstop arrangement merely "serve as an attempt through domestic law to mitigate a bad deal".

"The fundamental flaws of the draft Withdrawal Agreement treaty itself remain unchanged," he said.

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill agreed "the 'new offer' announced by British prime minister Theresa May contains little new thinking".

However, she insisted the original backstop "is not open to renegotiation" as it "represents the only legal guarantee to avoid a hard border".

"It represents the minimum protections the people of Ireland require. It cannot be negotiated, wished or voted away by the British government or British parliament.

"Brexit will be disastrous for the economy. The north cannot withstand exclusion form the customs union and single market."

She added that while Mrs May proposed a role for a future assembly and executive in deciding on Brexit "she and whoever succeeds her as British prime minister needs to realise that there can be no unionist veto".

The UUP's Danny Kennedy agreed "a number of the points the prime minister made have been mentioned before and aren't new".

He added "any commitments should have been legally binding as part of the Withdrawal Agreement or else they are not worth the paper they are written on".

"What we need is an alternative to the backstop that does not compromise the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom."

But Aodhán Connolly, director of the British Retail Consortium, insisted the `new deal' "gives assurances on Northern Ireland's position which should give confidence to MPs to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill".

He added any alternative arrangements "must add to the backstop rather than diluting the protections and frictionless trade promised within the Withdrawal Agreement".

"Our economy needs access to both the UK and EU markets to be successful."

Meanwhile, during a speech at Queen's University, Belfast, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern acknowledged "the fears of unionists... got the least sympathy" in the Brexit debate.

He said "some of the language from Dublin in speaking to unionists lacked the empathy we extended to nationalists" and the European, US and pro-remain British media "ignored, dismissed and poorly reported" unionists' "real fears about being cut off from full communion with the UK".

He said some of this was "of the DUP's own doing" and their apparent "abrasive indifference to the concerns of northern nationalists (and) those of the Irish Republic" over their Tory alliance and they stopped listening "not just to nationalists but to many middle unionists".

But Mr Ahern cited Sinn Féin "calls for border polls as well as the instant implementation of a liberal agenda" as adding to the difficulties.

He insisted: "I can or could not see any circumstances where there will not be a trade agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom after Brexit.

"In that event there would in my view be no requirement for the backstop."

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