15/10/2018

EU Negotiators Ignoring Good Friday Agreement, Claims UUP

Robin Swann MLA, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, has hit out at EU negotiators and the Irish government for ignoring and "playing fast and loose" with the Good Friday Agreement.

His remarks came as the Irish backstop issue was once again the sticking point of talks, this time in an unexpected meeting between UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Mr Swann said the EU's proposals for a backstop, which would see the UK stay in a customs union with the EU, and also see Northern Ireland remain in the single market, are an abuse of the Belfast Agreement.

"The next few days will be pivotal in the history of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom," he said.

"Brussels cannot simply dismiss the potential constitutional consequences of Brexit as something that they don't have to be concerned with as part of negotiations.

"That approach ignored the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent which underpinned it. They are playing fast and loose with an agreement which underpinned the relative peace which we have today."

Unionists in Northern Ireland are strongly opposed to the proposals made by the EU, fearing they will see Northern Ireland separated from the rest of the UK, becoming what Mr Swann described as an "EU Protectorate".

The UUP leader also said that a border in the Irish Sea would be as bad for the Republic of Ireland as for Northern Ireland.
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"The EU negotiators, the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and their colleagues should be mindful of that. It certainly looks like the Belfast Agreement is being used and abused, twisted and contorted by those who are seeking to exploit the situation.

"These same people claim they don't want a hard border on the island of Ireland but seem content to see economic, regulatory barriers imposed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom which would have a huge detrimental impact on the local economy.

As disagreement on the Irish border continues, Sinn Fein's Brexit spokesperson David Cullinane TD called on the EU to stick to the terms of the backstop agreement and not be swayed by current political squabbles on the matter.

Mr Cullinane said: "The Brexit talks are in disarray. The hard right of the Tory party, in tandem with the DUP, are pushing to scupper the backstop and inflict a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"The Good Friday agreement must be protected in all it's parts; the rights of Irish and EU citizens in the north must be protected; and there must be no hardening of the border."

SDLP Brexit spokesperson hit out at Northern Ireland's two main political parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, for "playing to the gallery" during this key phase of negotiations.

"The future of Northern Ireland has never been more uncertain, yet the democratic void has never been so evident.

"Whilst the DUP place Northern Ireland's economic and political welfare at the mercy of their narrow ideology, Sinn Fein use their time to litter the city with placards while depriving voters of a voice in Westminster and Stormont.

"The people of Northern Ireland are very ill-served by the DUP and Sinn Fein; the actions of the former facilitated by the inaction of the latter."

(JG)

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