North’s Remainer leaders warn against any DUP veto on backstop

Heads of Remainer parties tell Barnier and Verhofstadt of need to mitigate Brexit effects

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, meets Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill,  SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Steven Agnew, leader of the Green Party, in Brussels. Photograph: Francois Walschaerts/Reuters

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, meets Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Steven Agnew, leader of the Green Party, in Brussels. Photograph: Francois Walschaerts/Reuters

 

Leaders of the North’s four Remainer parties were in Brussels on Friday to insist on the importance of defending the backstop and on the vital need for mitigating the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland

Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin), Colum Eastwood (SDLP), Stephen Farry (Alliance), and Stephen Agnew (Greens), emphasised that they represent the majority in the North who opposed Brexit.

The group met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and the European Parliament’s Brexit lead, Guy Verhofstadt.

They warned against any suggestion the DUP should be given a veto on a backstop deal (ensuring no hard border on the island of Ireland even without a formal Brexit deal). Ms O’Neill said “a decision to hand back a veto to the regional assembly and DUP was a particular concern”.

EU sources have emphasised in recent days they do not see any “consent” clause, giving a veto to the currently-suspended Northern Assembly, as appropriate to the Withdrawal Agreement which is currently being negotiated.

They say the treaty is between sovereign governments and can not be made subject to others’ approval.

All four said they were reassured by the strong support for the Irish position articulated by both men. Ms O’Neill welcomed Mr Barnier’s insistence that October summit in a fortnight would be “decisive”.

Mr Eastwood and Mr Farry insisted the backstop is not a threat to the constitutional position of the North but a pragmatic attempt to “protect citizens and businesses on the island”. Mr Farry supported Mr Barnier’s attempts to “dedramatise” the language surrounding the backstop.

Mr Eastwood said the DUP should understand the constitutional guarantees on the status of the North that were and remained part of the Belfast Agreement.

He warned the “hybrid Chequers” proposals expected from London in the coming days - a form of customs union membership for the whole of the UK - “won’t meet the standard of avoiding a hard border in Ireland” and predicted they would be rejected by the EU.

Three of the parties, Sinn Féin demurring, said they support the idea of a second “people’s referendum” in the whole of the UK . Mr Eastwood said that “If there’s an opportunity to stop it [Brexit] we should take it.”

The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, and the UUP’s MEP Jim Nicholson will be in Brussels on Tuesday to defend the Brexit case to Mr Barnier.

Earlier this week Ms Foster warned the party’s “red line” that there could be no Brexit deal that would divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom was “blood red”.