Sinn Féin’s Westminster boycott ‘to continue despite Brexit’

Party could hold balance of power in votes on single market and regulatory alignment

Sinn Féin: party leader Mary Lou McDonald with the new MP for West Tyrone, Orfhlaith Begley, and Sinn Féin’s Northern leader, Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

Sinn Féin: party leader Mary Lou McDonald with the new MP for West Tyrone, Orfhlaith Begley, and Sinn Féin’s Northern leader, Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

 

Sinn Féin’s newest MP has forecast the party’s boycott of Westminster will remain despite the gathering crisis over Brexit.

With the Conservative government in London dependent on DUP support for a majority, the seven Sinn Féin MPs could hold the balance of power in any of the critical votes forthcoming on staying in a single market and regulatory alignment.

But to do so would require Sinn Féin to at least suspend its historic abstentionist policy which would represent a major shift by the party.

There had been speculation that younger members of the party were not as wedded to the abstentionist mantra and could support a more pragmatic approach.

However, at just 26, one of the youngest elected MPs, Orfhlaith Begley, has insisted there is no pressure inside the party for change.

The former lawyer, a longtime backroom activist for Sinn Féin, also said nationalists in general remained in favour of abstaining from the House of Commons. Participation would involve swearing an oath of loyalty to the Queen.

Ms Begley won the West Tyrone byelection comfortably last week.

She replaced her party colleague Barry McElduff, who resigned in January after widespread condemnation of a controversial social media post, in which he posed with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the 47th anniversary of the 1976 massacre of the same name, in which 10 Protestant textile workers were killed by the IRA.

Ms Begley said she had stood on an abstentionist ticket which had been endorsed by the electorate.

“I can’t see there being any change in that. There was no appetite for that on the doors,” she told the BBC. “People in West Tyrone realise that the British government will always turn their backs against people in the North.”

Nonetheless, she said, “most people” in the constituency are “scared” about the impact “of a hard Brexit and hard border”.

Ms Begley, whose father Sean was a long serving local councillor, also stressed she intended to represent unionists as well as nationalists.

“My door is open to everybody, every single constituent,” she said.

But her nearest rival contestant in the byelection, the DUP’s Thomas Buchanan said it was a disgrace that West Tyrone would once again have no representation in Westminster.