‘Remain’ Ulster Unionist MEP says Brexit result must be respected

Jim Nicholson tells UUP members he voted ‘with the head not with the heart’

European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier walks with UUP MEP Jim Nicholson prior to a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 9th, 2018. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/Reuters

European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier walks with UUP MEP Jim Nicholson prior to a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 9th, 2018. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/Reuters

 

In probably his last annual conference as an MEP, Jim Nicholson told Ulster Unionist Party members on Saturday that he voted “Remain” in the Brexit vote, but that now the “Leave” result must be respected and implemented.

He told the conference in Armagh, attended by more than 300 delegates, that when he voted to stay in the European Union he went “with the head not with the heart”.

“And I wonder, those who said Brexit would lead us to the land of milk and honey, are they still so confident?” he added.

But Mr Nicholson, who will be out of a job next year if Brexit goes ahead as planned because the UK will lose its MEPs, held to the line that the result must be applied and there must be no backstop deal that could lead to an effective border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

“Get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole – a Brexit that respects the referendum result, maintains the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, keeps a frictionless border with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and free trade with the continent.”

Mr Nicholson said that barely six months after the Brexit vote the EU started taking a hard line on the North-South border and “that it saw a border down the Irish Sea as being the solution”.

“Whether you voted ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ in the referendum, cutting off Northern Ireland from the rest of the country will never be an acceptable solution,” he said. “We did not stand against joint authority with Dublin only to end up with Dublin and 26 other (European) governments making our decisions for us.”

Mr Nicholson said there was still time for British prime minister Theresa May to “stand by the commitments she has made that there would be no internal UK border”.

“Some would have us believe that the only options left are an Irish Sea border or no deal. Both of these options have serious implications for Northern Ireland and for the union itself. Now is the time for unionists across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to come together,” he said.

“No deal might be better than a bad deal, but a good deal can still even now be agreed,” added Mr Nicholson.

Opposition

South Antrim MLA Steve Aiken expressed party opposition to the 2014 Stormont House Agreement proposals to deal with the past but particularly to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to inquire into Troubles-related killings. Northern secretary Karen Bradley, following a public consultation, is considering how to address the legacy of the conflict.

Mr Nicholson said the HIU would be exploited to “undermine the (British) and our noble security forces”.

“We cannot stand by and permit the rewriting of history,” he said to applause.

The Rev Alan Irwin South East Fermanagh Foundation victims’ group told the conference how his uncle and his father were killed by the IRA during the Troubles.

He said the proposals to deal with the past which also include an oral archive of the Troubles and an independent commission on information retrieval must not be implemented “without major, major, major amendment”.

“If you sacrifice truth and justice on the altar of peace you have no peace,” said Rev Irwin.

The UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie, who served as a British army officer in Afghanistan, said the Stormont House Agreement was a deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin and was not a good deal for victims.

There would be an over-emphasis on killings by the British soldiers, he added, while in addition the cases of those killed by paramilitaries in places such as the Republic, Britain and Germany “would be ignored”.

“Anything outside the Border of Northern Ireland will not be included in the HIU investigation case load. That is an utter disgrace,” he said.

Mr Beattie acknowledged that some British state killings required investigation and that the UUP must speak for all victims. He added however: “We will fight to stop the rewriting of history and the narrative here in Northern Ireland and make sure it stays on the agenda that the war, the conflict, the Troubles were perpetuated by republican terrorists over 30 years and butchered, or maimed and killed 47,000 people on this island.”