MPs must listen to deal's supporters in NI, says Northern Secretary
DUP describes Sinn Féin as ‘little more than glorified spectators’ in Brexit debate
Secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London on November 26th Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
The “overwhelming message” from Northern Ireland business leaders, voluntary groups and many others is that the British government should get on with delivering the Brexit deal, according to the Northern Secretary .
Ahead of the first day of House of Commons debates on Karen Bradley said that after a fortnight discussing Brexit with various interest groups in Northern Ireland, it was clear that people wanted a deal “that will help provide a better future for them and their families”.
She said she believed the EU-UK withdrawal agreement would provide such an outcome.
Crucially it is a deal that protects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom
“I hope my colleagues take the time to listen to the businesses and people of Northern Ireland who support this deal ahead of the vote next week,” she said.
“They will hear that the deal on the table is good for Northern Ireland. It will protect vital jobs and investment, and allow businesses in Northern Ireland to seize upon new opportunities as we strike new trade deals around the world,” she said.
“Crucially it is a deal that protects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom, ” added Ms Bradley.
Meanwhile, the DUP’s East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson has accused Sinn Féin’s seven abstentionist MPs of being “little more than glorified spectators on the sidelines” in the Brexit debates.
“Their seven MPs could wield influence in the House of Commons but instead they choose to take their money but boycott the chamber. They fail those seven constituencies,” he said on Monday.
“Sinn Féin’s newfound energy regarding the European Union was almost nonexistent during the actual EU referendum campaign in 2016.”
A rejection of this deal on the basis of the backstop will only bring us back to square one
He said the DUP opposes the withdrawal agreement because it is bad for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
“Northern Ireland would be locked into taking rules from Brussels with no democratic say on those rules. Indeed, over time our rules and regulations would diverge away from the rest of the United Kingdom, our main market,” he said.
‘Back to square one’
Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill said the DUP was “clearly on the wrong side” of the debate. “They are setting their face against the wishes and best interests of the vast majority of citizens by continuing to push for a hard Brexit and opposing the withdrawal agreement,” she said.
“That agreement is not perfect and neither is the backstop contained within it. However, it is the least worst option and remains our best insurance policy against the worst excesses of Brexit on the island of Ireland,” said Ms O’Neill.
“Whatever transpires over the coming weeks, the backstop remains the bottom line.”
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was “reckless” for anyone to say that there is an alternative to the backstop. “There is not,” he said. “A rejection of this deal on the basis of the backstop will only bring us back to square one. No matter what happens next week in the House of Commons the backstop is non-negotiable.”
Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Lord Reginald Empey said the DUP was “asleep at the wheel a year ago when they could have done something” to strike a better post-Brexit deal.
“They squandered the time by telling us all how influential they were in London and allowed Dublin to run rings around them. This is one awful mess and the DUP must take their share of the responsibility for it,” he said.