Britain ‘trading in a racehorse for the donkey of Brexit’

Alliance leader Naomi Long says there is no will to restore the Assembly

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long addresses her party conference at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast on Saturday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long addresses her party conference at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast on Saturday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Alliance leader Naomi Long has accused the British government of trading in a racehorse with its membership of the EU for the donkey of Brexit.

Ms Long also told her party conference in Belfast if it becomes clear that there is no will to restore Stormont then it needs to be “shelved”.

On Saturday she arrived on stage in front of delegates at the Stormont Hotel to Elvis track A Little Less Conversation, “a little more action please”.

She spoke of her frustration at the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly and the absence of clarity or certainty regarding the likely outcome of Brexit.

“In short, our membership of the EU is a racehorse, which we are trading for the promise of a unicorn and so whatever donkey Theresa May brings home from Brussels will never and can never satisfy the expectations either of those who voted for a unicorn or those who were happy with the racehorse,” she said.

She said if it becomes clear that there is no will to restore the Assembly, MLA wages should be stopped and Stormont needs “to be shelved and alternative arrangements put in place to make decisions as we cannot continue in a state of suspended animation forever”.

To massive applause she referred to “an appalling dereliction of duty by the Secretary of State, who has made no concerted effort to end this interminable drift despite it allegedly being her top priority”.

“I haven’t seen Karen Bradley’s to do list, but if restoration of the devolved institutions is indeed her number one issue, heaven help those who find their concerns further down the list,” she said.

“Her claim to the House of Commons that she has approached resolving the impasse with ‘laser-like focus” is evidence only that we can now add lasers to the list of things the Secretary of State knew nothing about when appointed to her current role, alongside unionism, nationalism, entrenched voting patterns and sectarianism.”

Ms Long said Ms Bradley was not to blame for the stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Féin but “she is responsible for the lack of urgency attached to either get the Assembly restored or put in place alternative arrangements to deliver government if parties continue to refuse to step up to their responsibilities”.

Same-sex marriage; key infrastructure projects; delivering health recommendations; licensing law reform; protecting people from welfare reform; delivering a pension to those severely injured during the Troubles; and implementing the Hart Inquiry recommendations for victims of institutional abuse, were among those areas she referenced being stalled by a lack of devolved government.

Ms Long spoke of hitting “the same brick wall of lack of a Minister, time and time again” and called again for all party talks and an independent chair to be appointed.

If the Assembly is going to return governance arrangements are going to need “significant reform”, she added.

“Only with genuine reform of the Petition of Concern, the replacing of parallel consent with weighted majority voting, and restructuring of the Executive to enhance and incentivise cooperation, will we have an Assembly and Executive which is not just restored, but which is fit for purpose, fit to deliver and sustainable in the longer term,” she said.

Earlier, deputy leader Stephen Farry outlined Alliance’s three point vision to protect Northern Ireland against Brexit.

He said there should be: a ‘People’s Vote’ to reconsider Brexit, with the option to remain; the whole of the UK remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market; a special deal that helps the Northern Ireland economy and defends the Good Friday Agreement.

He described all versions of Brexit leaving the UK worse off.

He warned of pending damage to the economy when equipped with facts as a “massive self inflicted wound” and declared the notion of Global Britain as “a massive fantasy harking back to an imagined or distorted sense of empire”.

Alliance has eight MLAs and 32 councillors across 18 constituencies and 11 councils.