Sinn Féin absence on Commons Brexit vote ‘great shame’, says John Bruton

Voice of Irish nationalism muted in debate on UK’s exit due to party refusal to take seats

John Bruton criticised Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Féin for not sitting in the Commons at such a critical time as the Brexit vote.

John Bruton criticised Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Féin for not sitting in the Commons at such a critical time as the Brexit vote.


Sinn Féin’s refusal to take seats in Westminster and voice their Brexit concerns means the voice of Irish nationalism is muted when it comes to the debate over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, according to former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader John Bruton.

Mr Bruton criticised Sinn Féin’s “extremely bad” record for not sitting in the House of Commons.

The party’s policy of abstention means it will not take seats because it opposes Westminster’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland. And Sinn Féin is also opposed to the oath all MPs must make to the Queen.

Mr Bruton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the record of Sinn Féin MPs not taking their seats in parliament has been extremely bad. Ireland was partitioned in 1920 when Sinn Féin refused to take their seats after the 1918 election. Sinn Féin have refused to take their seats on this occasion and the most serious threats to the position of Northern nationalists are now about to be realised – with no Sinn Féin, no Northern nationalist voice to argue a different case. I think it’s a great shame, it’s a tragedy.”

He also said there would be a hard border between the Republic and the North if there is no agreement between the UK and the EU.

And he suggested those opposed to the controversial backstop proposals to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland do not believe there would ever be an acceptable agreement.

What is the backstop?

The backstop is a position of last resort, to protect an open Border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an overall exit deal. Thousands of people cross the Border daily and goods and services pass between the two jurisdictions without restriction.

“One suspects that those who object to the backstop are people who don’t really expect there ever will be an acceptable agreement that would avoid a hard border in Ireland or between Ireland and Britain,” he said.

Meanwhile, A Tory cabinet minister has been accused of engaging in “gutter politics” after he warned that blocking Brexit could “open the door” to “extremist” populist political forces in the UK.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said putting a stop to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU may end centuries of “moderate” politics the UK has enjoyed since the English civil war as he urged his Conservative colleagues to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Mr Grayling, who campaigned to leave the European Union, said the millions who voted for Brexit would feel “cheated” if the UK did not quit the bloc.

Days before the critical Commons vote, Mr Grayling told the Daily Mail: “People have to think long and hard about how they are going to vote. This is too important for political game-playing and I urge Conservative MPs who back Brexit and others to back the deal. If not, we risk a break with the British tradition of moderate, mainstream politics that goes back to the Restoration in 1660.”

Mr Grayling said not to do so would open the door to extremist populist political forces in Britain of the kind seen in other countries in Europe.

His comments were condemned by pro-EU Tory former minister Anna Soubry and Labour former minister David Lammy.

Reaction to incendiary comments

Ms Soubry, who was branded a “Nazi” and a “liar” by a mob who targeted her during live television interviews outside parliament on Monday, described Mr Grayling’s comments as “irresponsible nonsense”.

Mr Lammy said: “This is a desperate attempt by a government minister to use a tiny far-right minority to hold our democracy to ransom. It is gutter politics.”

Mr Grayling’s comments came after Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warned a no-deal exit would create a “feeling of unrest”.

She told BBC News Northern Ireland: “I have been clear that I believe no deal is bad for the United Kingdom, it’s bad for the whole United Kingdom because it does put in jeopardy some of those constitutional arrangements. I’m sure it will create feeling of unrest with people in all parts of the United Kingdom who didn’t want to see us leave the European Union.”

It comes amid reports that some cabinet ministers believe Mrs May has run out of time to get crucial exit legislation through parliament before March 29th, even if she wins the critical vote next week. – PA/Reuters

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