Jeremy Corbyn made aware of unhappiness in Derry over Brexit

Business people left feeling nothing much would be different under Labour

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Prof Deirdre Heenan  and shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish Border. Photograph:  Liam McBurney/PA

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Prof Deirdre Heenan and shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish Border. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

 

Jeremy Corbyn came to Derry yesterday before later crossing briefly over the bridge linking Strabane in County Tyrone with Lifford in County Donegal, declaring that there will not be a hard border after Brexit.

However, not everyone was convinced.

“Jeremy Corbyn is saying the same thing as everyone says, that there will be no hard border, no infrastructure, nothing to impede the movement of people and goods across the Border, but he wasn’t able to give any real, hard, firm solutions,” said Gavin Killeen, the managing director of NuPrint

“He’s also proposing a new customs arrangement with the EU which would give alignment with the single market, but how that would be achieved is a challenge,” said Killeen, whose company makes and supplies labels and packaging for the food and drink trade across the island of across Ireland.

“He’s always clear he’s not calling for another referendum on Brexit, so really he’s supporting the government position on this, he’s not really challenging them on Brexit. It’s the same sort of story,” he declared.

Did his best to woo

Corbyn did his best to woo : “This is not the first time that I have been in Derry, but it certainly won’t be the last time,” he told them, adding, “It is wonderful to stay here in this hotel and wake up with a picture of John Hume by my bed.”

However, the chamber of commerce audience quickly highlighted their anti-Brexit opinions, delivering an unprompted show of hands to give Corbyn, a long-time EU critic, clear sight of their unhappiness with the road being travelled in London.

I don’t think we left the event being much further forward. His address and Q&A session did little to inspire confidence that the situation would be any different under a Labour government at Westminster

“Businesses people who live, work, trade, socialise and more on a cross-Border basis every day, came here seeking clarity on the Labour Party’s position on the customs union and single market regarding Northern Ireland, ” said local businessman, Ian Cullen.

“I don’t think we left the event being much further forward. His address and Q&A session did little to inspire confidence that the situation would be any different under a Labour government at Westminster,” said Cullen, who runs local digital agency, Grofuse.

North London constituency

Explaining his position, Corbyn said three-quarters of the voters in his north London constituency had voted to stay in the EU, but in other Labour-held constituencies the people there had voted by the same margin to quit.

“We have to recognise there was a sense of anger and injustice, that people voted the way they did to leave the EU because of a lack of investment in their communities and a feeling of hopelessness,” he told the Derry audience.

Labour will not back a “hard” Brexit, he told them and will “campaign for an agreement with the EU that gives us that regulatory alignment and protection of our trade relationship”, though his audience remain unpersuaded on the detail.

“We believe that there is not a majority for any kind of hard Brexit and it has always been clear to me – even clearer after coming here – is that the idea of any kind of border, physical border, virtual reality border, technical border, whatever between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be very, very damaging to the economy and will be a reverse of all the progress ever since the end of the Troubles and the Good Friday agreement,” he said.

However, Derry remains unclear on what he means: Bonnie Anley, the chair of Foyle Port, was pointed in her messages to Corbyn and other London politicians, saying there continues to “be a lack of clarity” on trade, travel and customs issues from London despite looming deadlines.

Later, the Labour leader travelled to the once heavily-fortified Border crossing between Strabane and Lifford to see what a free-flowing frontier looks like: “A symbol of peace,” declared the pro vice-chancellor of Ulster University, Deirdre Heenan, who accompanied him across the bridge.