Brexit deal gets a qualified welcome in Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin says phase one report lacks clarity. ‘The devil is in the detail,’ says UUP leader

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood: “We are likely to see a very soft Brexit.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood: “We are likely to see a very soft Brexit.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


Progress on the Brexit deal was given a qualified welcome by parties in Northern Ireland on Friday.

The DUP, whose intervention led to the collapse of talks between Britain and the EU on Monday, welcomed “substantive” changes to the draft plans for Northern Ireland, but leader Arlene Foster warned there is “more work to be done”.

She said there were now clear commitments that Northern Ireland would leave the European Union along with the rest of the UK and that there would be no customs or trade border down the Irish Sea.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party was satisfied there would be no constitutional, political, economic or regulatory separation from Britain and that “there will be no so-called ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland as demanded by Sinn Féin”.

“Sinn Féin’s demand for that has disappeared in a puff of smoke; gone forever,” he said.

Sinn Féin Northern leader Michelle O’Neill said the joint UK-EU report at the conclusion of phase one of the Brexit talks lacked clarity. She said her party would continue to make the case for special status.

“We will continue to articulate that our society needs to remain in the customs union and the single market because that is the best way to protect north/south east/west trade, citizens’ rights and ensure no reintroduction of any kind of border,” she said.

She said the agreement represents “a degree of progress but that more clarity is required and much more work needs to be done”.


She argued the report contained contradictions, and little detail on a range of issues including the future role of the European Court of Justice.

On the political stalemate in the North, which has been without government since January, Ms O’Neill said the Irish Government “needs to be very conscious that the refusal to embrace rights is at the heart of the current difficulties in the political institutions and the collapse of the Executive”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he thinks “we are likely to see a very soft Brexit.” Mr Eastwood highlighted he was “the first person talking about special status”.

“What that was about was protecting our ability to trade across the EU, to move across the EU, and I think that has been guaranteed,” he said.

UUP leader Robin Swann said: “The devil is in the detail, the saviour will now be in the fine print.”

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said the UK and EU have an opportunity to agree “a deep and comprehensive trading relationship” but that the British government must be held to its commitment on no new internal borders or barriers to trade within the UK. His party will “closely follow any further discussion on regulatory alignment”, he said.

Alliance Party deputy leader and Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry said he gave the report a “cautious welcome” and stressed it amounted to a foundation on which to build a workable solution for Northern Ireland, including the potential for continuing to participate in the single market, if the UK as a whole does not now opt for a soft Brexit.

“Northern Ireland can be a bridge to both the UK and European markets, which should not be viewed as mutually exclusive,” he said.