Brexit: DUP strategy risks ‘no-deal catastrophe’, says O’Neill
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood says MPs must decide between backstop or no Brexit at all
Michelle O’Neill: ‘The EU has shown considerable patience and a willingness to facilitate a Brexit agreement that enables Britain to leave the EU without creating a hard border.’ Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Responding to the DUP’s decision to vote against Theresa’s May withdrawal agreement despite receiving assurances from the EU, Ms O’Neill said there must be no diminution of the backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border.
“The EU has shown considerable patience and a willingness to facilitate a Brexit agreement that enables Britain to leave the EU without creating a hard border in Ireland or undermining the Good Friday agreement,” said Ms O’Neill.
“The business community, the farming community, the civil service, educationalists and trade unionists have all warned in recent weeks about the dire consequences of a no-deal crash on our economy,” she said.
“The DUP continues to ignore these warnings, just as they ignore the fact that the majority of people in the North voted against Brexit in the first place,” said Ms O’Neill.
“This blinkered strategy is reckless in the extreme. It is driving us all towards a no-deal crash that would be catastrophic,” she said.
“At this critical time the DUP have a choice to make. It is time to put people’s jobs, livelihoods and peace first before selfish party political interests,” she added.
No happy medium
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said although the result was extremely disappointing, “sooner or later the British parliament is going to have to support a backstop for Northern Ireland or else support no Brexit at all”.
“There is no happy medium between these two eventualities. The bottom line is that the backstop, aside from scrapping Brexit entirely, is our only insurance policy against a hard border.
“Until MPs accept this reality, article 50 should be extended to avoid us crashing out of the EU without a deal,” added Mr Eastwood.
Ulster Unionist Party MEP Jim Nicholson said that, “given no meaningful changes were made to the withdrawal agreement and specifically the backstop”, the result was no surprise.
“In reality, the joint instrument and the joint statement are nothing but legal gymnastics to try to paper over the cracks. It made the division in the House of Commons a meaningful vote on meaningless changes,” he said.
The North’s Federation of Small Business said Mrs May’s latest defeat “further heightened uncertainty and reinforces the need for a devolved Assembly and Executive to input into the Brexit process”.
Roger Pollen, the federation’s head of external affairs in Northern Ireland, said Stormont would have a key role to play in what happens next, but “unfortunately the devolved institutions continue to be missing in action, with no talks process ongoing to restore them”.
Danny McCoy, chief executive of Ibec, the Irish employers’ group, said there must now be a long extension to the UK quitting the EU to avoid a no-deal exit, to safeguard the Belfast Agreement and allow the UK political system to reach agreement on a way forward.
“The risk of a no-deal has already cost Irish business millions and still there is no clarity,” said Mr McCoy.
“A long delay is now required for the UK to find a political consensus on a sensible way forward and remove the risk of a no-deal cliff edge.”
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the best way forward on Brexit was a “people’s vote” with the backstop the “bare minimum” requirement.
“At the very least, it is now vital to bank the backstop and to avoid a no-deal outcome. The backstop is not a burden to Northern Ireland. It is no threat to the principle of consent and provides a basis to assist the local economy and maintain political cohesion,” he added.
The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the deal offered by the EU in Strasbourg to try to persuade the House of Commons to endorse Mrs May’s deal was “spin and guile signifying nothing”.
“No one should be deceived into thinking that the new proposed ‘instrument’ changes one word of the withdrawal agreement, or its backstop,” he said.
Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said “neither government nor many businesses are ready for a no-deal exit, and it must not be allowed to happen by default”.
“Despite two and a half years passing since the referendum, there is no clear plan to support those businesses at the sharp end of such an abrupt change,” she said.
Ms McGregor said the implications for Northern Ireland were starkly portrayed in a recent British Chambers of Commerce and NI Chamber Brexit survey where two in five Northern Ireland firms said that in the event of a no-deal they would plan to move all or some of their business to the EU.
“Against this backdrop, it is critical that government and parliament pull out all the stops to avoid a no-deal scenario and the messy and disorderly exit that it will bring,” she said.