SDLP Challenge DUP To Debate Merits Of EU Membership

The SDLP's Leader and European candidate Colum Eastwood has challenged the DUP candidate Diane Dodds to engage in a debate on the benefits the European Union brings to Northern Ireland.

It comes as voters prepare to go to the polls on Thursday 23 May to elect the MEPs that will lead the region through Brexit. Also standing for election are the Alliance Party's Naomi Long, the Green Party's Clare Bailey, Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson and TUV Leader Jim Allister.

In addition, Danny Kennedy of the UUP, Conservative Amandeep Singh Bhogal, UKIP's Robert Hill and Independent candidates Neil Patrick McCann and Jane Morrice.

Mr Eastwood challenged Mrs Dodds, who is a sitting MEP and the leading Brexit supporting candidate in this election, to debate the merits of EU membership just 10 days before voting takes place.

He commented: "Mrs Dodds has cast doubt on the central theme of my campaign that we are so much better off as part of the European Union. If this is genuinely her view then I can't think of a credible reason why she would hesitate to take up my offer of a public debate. 

"If the DUP agree, I'm prepared to clear my schedule and to take part in such a debate anywhere across the North and at any time during the course of the next 10 days. 
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"Over the last few days we have also heard many claims from the DUP that the monies we currently receive from the European Union are merely recycled from the British treasury. The real question is this – can they guarantee that all future British Governments will continue to match the funding levels which the European Union currently provides for our farmers, our businesses and our community and voluntary sector. Until now, it is very telling that this question has been met with a deafening silence. 

"After three years of crippling uncertainty, people are wise to the Brexiteer game. They will promise everything and deliver nothing. That is why we need to stop Brexit and stay within the security and certainty provided by the European Union."

Mrs Dodds, who launched her campaign in recent days, has been canvassing in east Antrim and east Belfast in the hope of being re-elected and sending a message to both London and Brussels that the referendum result should be implemented and the union strengthened.

She commented: "Almost 350,000 people in Northern Ireland voted to leave the EU. Together with 'leave' voters in Scotland it was Northern Ireland that helped us win the referendum. But the days of 'leave' and 'remain' should be over. This is now a case of respecting democracy.

"It is bad for democracy if people in London and Brussels are allowed to thwart the will of the people. Whilst some people would do a deal at any price, the DUP has been clear. We want the right deal. We will continue to stand against any new border being created in the Irish Sea. The United Kingdom voted as one nation in 2016 and we should leave as one nation.

"A sensible exit is possible but it will require strength and determination in negotiations. This election is an opportunity to strengthen the DUP hand in negotiations."


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