PM To Visit NI In Hope Of Winning Brexit Support

Prime Minister Theresa May is set to visit Northern Ireland tomorrow, 05 February, in a bid to win support for her revised Brexit strategy.

According to a Downing Street spokesperson, Mrs May will address business leaders in a speech centred upon the crucial Irish border issue.

It comes as she prepares to return to Brussels to demand the reopening of the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Meanwhile, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer travelled to NI on Monday to express his party's commitment to the backstop arrangement as a means of preventing a hardening of the border.

He explained: "The Prime Minister has effectively run down the clock and therefore it is impossible to see a way forward without a backstop.

"So, whilst we have got concerns that we have set out about the backstop, we do accept the principle that there has got to be a backstop."

After meeting with Sir Keir, Sinn Fein's Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill reiterated her position that the backstop cannot be renegotiated.

"I met today with the British Labour Party's Brexit spokesperson in Belfast alongside my colleague Chris Hazzard MP and made it clear to him the backstop has already been agreed and is not open to renegotiation. 

"We told him that the DUP do not speak for the people of the north and that the majority here did not consent to Brexit and do not want to be dragged out of the EU.
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"The majority of political parties in the north continue to oppose Brexit and want to protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border. It is on that basis that the majority of political parties support the backstop.

"Keir Starmer acknowledged that a backstop is inevitable," the Mid Ulster MLA continued.

"We told him there can be no renegotiation of the Backstop and Withdrawal Agreement. 

"That is the message the EU27 has clearly given to the British government and it is the message Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and I will be delivering to British Prime Minister Theresa May when we meet her on Wednesday."

Meanwhile, the SDLP's Leader Colum Eastwood said he insisted upon the vital importance of the backstop while meeting the Labour delegation.

"Today we made clear that London must stop placing the interests of the people of Northern Ireland behind parliamentary arithmetic," the Foyle MLA added.

"The Backstop is the only mechanism to insure against a hard border and the only way to uphold the will of the people of Northern Ireland. It is that simple.

"We were encouraged that Labour MPs Keir Starmer, Tony Lloyd and Jenny Chapman understood this position. Labour have a strong history in recognising the delicate position we find ourselves in here, as well as stepping up to assist us in the progress of maintaining peace. We hope this is a position they will take in any forthcoming Brexit votes.

"The SDLP have been clear, we cannot allow the disarray in London to spill over and disrupt the lives of people here. The Backstop must be banked."


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