An attempt by Northern Ireland MPs to change British government legislation so that Northern businesses would have guarantees of unfettered access to the British market after Brexit has failed.
The British government has insisted that its withdrawal Bill provides assurances about access of Northern manufacturing and business to the British market. DUP, SDLP and Alliance MPs were seeking through an amendment to the Bill to have copperfastened legislative commitments of such access.
They were supported by Sinn Féin, whose MPs do not sit in the House of Commons, the Ulster Unionist Party, who do not have any seats, and by Northern Ireland business leaders.
The MPs’ amendment, however, was defeated 337 to 262 votes.
DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said it was "disappointing that the government opposed a united Northern Ireland effort to ensure the government meets its promises on unfettered access to the UK market for Northern Ireland.
“This was a positive amendment which sought nothing more than to ensure the government honoured its promises and that the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment was delivered upon.
“The amendment would have removed the uncertainty within the Bill as it stands where Ministers could potentially not bring forward regulations, or indeed access to the UK market could be subject to huge numbers of checks and costly administration,” said Mr Wilson.
He added: “Every Northern Ireland MP in the House of Commons supported this proposal, such is the degree of concern about the impact on the Northern Ireland economy if we do not have such access to our largest market. The Government’s own assessments state there will be an impact on the Northern Ireland economy from the withdrawal agreement.”
Mr Wilson was the only Northern Ireland MP permitted to speak on the amendment. Criticising the refusal to allow the SDLP or Alliance speak, SDLP MP Claire Hanna said: "This will contribute to the very real feeling that this Brexit, and this form of Brexit, is being enforced on Northern Ireland, who have never given their consent."
Sinn Féin in a statement said that “Westminster has never acted in Ireland’s interests and never will”.
"Sinn Féin has used our political influence in Dublin and Brussels to protect the Good Friday agreement and prevent any hardening of the Border. We will continue to work with the EU 27 and the Irish Government to represent the best interests of the people of Ireland," it added.
‘North’s business voice’
Angela McGowan, director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Northern Ireland, said “given the unprecedented support from the Northern Irish political parties and business community, it’s clearly disappointing that reassurances haven’t yet translated into clear legal commitments.
“The CBI looks forward to working with the UK government to ensure unfettered access for firms between GB and NI. We recognise, however, that NI’s business voice will be better amplified if we have the NI Executive and the North-South Ministerial Council restored.”
Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI welcomed the fact that the Northern Ireland MPs united in pressing for the amendment but he too was disappointed it was rejected. He said politicians and business people were seeking legal commitments in the withdrawal Bill to back up the British government's pledges.
“This was an opportunity for the British government to put their money where their mouth was and they have chosen not to do so,” added Mr Kelly.