MEPs talk Brexit

In the wake of the Brexit referendum, Northern Ireland’s three MEPs talk to agendaNi about moving forward.

 

DUP

Diane Dodds is a Democratic Unionist Member of the European Parliament

On 23 June, the people of the United Kingdom voted to the leave the European Union. Over 33 million people cast a ballot – the largest turnout witnessed in a UK-wide poll for generations. It was a national answer to a national question, and one which cannot be rewritten or wished away. However the debate was a polarising one. There are many who are disappointed by the result and to them it is important to emphasise that we have not turned our back on Europe. Two World Wars prove that an independent UK looks out for its neighbours. Membership of NATO and a seat on the UN Security Council secures us a global place. We have simply rejected the shackles of Brussels and sought to build a new relationship with the EU.

It is now time to work to build that new relationship. It should be about co-operation in trade, security and prosperity. This doesn’t just make sense for the UK but for the EU as well. We are the largest marketplace for German cars. We are the largest importer from French farms. The reality is that Europe needs us, but both sides bring plenty to the table. It is time for cool heads and practical minds.

The referendum result has also presented unique challenges closer to home. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to have a land border with an EU Member, in the form of the Republic of Ireland, and whilst the vote to leave has not left us in the black hole that many projected, work at all levels is needed to ensure that the future of cross-border relations is vibrant and mutually beneficial. Brussels has invested much in peace in Northern Ireland and its desire to safeguard that legacy may give Northern Ireland unique leverage in negotiations. We should explore every avenue. Ministers from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have agreed a 10-point plan for moving forward, and bilateral talks are underway in relation to the Common Travel Area (CTA). A willingness exists on both sides to co-operate. Peace in Northern Ireland is not under threat. It has been built by our people and our politicians and it was the sacrifice of brave men and women of the security forces that laid the foundations, not anyone in Brussels. Political will has not evaporated.

Northern Ireland has a rich history and a bright future. We have faced many challenges and our ability to seize opportunities has been demonstrated many times. Work is underway within the Northern Ireland Executive to pursue a good outcome for our people. No one underestimates the scale of the challenge, but there are exciting opportunities ahead. Opportunities to provide support for our farmers, whilst freeing them from excessive red tape, and the chance to secure new access for local businesses to thriving global markets. As political leaders we have never been slow to push Northern Ireland’s case and we will do so again as negotiations commence. Whether it is economic development, community building or supporting our farmers, fishermen or those so terribly affected by the Troubles, we must work hard in the period ahead to secure the best deal.

For my part I will work with all those from Northern Ireland who want to secure a good deal in any new arrangements. It is time to recognise reality, move on from divisive rhetoric and commit to finding solutions. We should now work to help shape the future and demonstrate that confidence and optimism triumphs over fear and despair. We have done it before and we can do it again.

 

Sinn Féin

Martina Anderson is a Sinn Féin Member of the European Parliament

The votes of people in England in the recent referendum on EU membership have created huge difficulties for our economy, our people and relationships across Ireland.

This referendum was not wanted here, nor was it necessary. It was brought about by in-fighting within the British Tory party, bowing to pressure from racists and UKIP. The people of the North rejected their agenda and a majority voted to remain in the EU on 23 June.

That view, which was democratically expressed in the referendum vote, must be respected and recognised. Some have argued that we now need to draw a line under the referendum and move on but that is not credible. This is a live issue and the implications of it are still being revealed. The prospect of being dragged out of the EU by the votes of people in England would be disastrous for the North and its impact would be felt right across the island of Ireland.

The north is a net beneficiary of EU membership and there is now serious concern about the potential loss of that funding and its impact across a range of sectors. Our agriculture, education, business, community and voluntary, and other sectors now face the possibility of losing hundreds of millions in EU funding. Our farmers in particular are now facing an uncertain future as the agriculture industry is dependent on Single Farm Payments.

I have absolutely no faith that the British government will replace the funding which could be lost if they succeed in dragging us out of the EU. This is a British government that has shown no regard for the people of the North and we should not expect them to begin now. We need to see an all-Ireland vision and approach to dealing with the EU. Sinn Féin called on the Taoiseach to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of the referendum and I welcome the support for that.

There is now an opportunity to examine new relationships on the island of Ireland. Others are now coming round to that position, including the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader and that is to be welcomed. We have the very real prospect of a referendum on Irish unity and we must seize that. We can redesign the constitutional and political future of the island of Ireland and Europe. We must not be shackled to Britain when the people of the North made it clear that we have a wholly different view on Europe.

We have our own laws, our own judiciary, and our own political institutions, which are underscored by an internationally binding agreement in the Good Friday Agreement. Theresa May is fond of saying that Brexit means Brexit but here in the north we voted to Remain and Remain must mean Remain.

 

UUP

Jim Nicholson is an Ulster Unionist Member of the European Parliament

The EU referendum was a classic “head over heart” choice. I backed “Remain” for a number of reasons: our Single Market membership, the impact of Brexit on our agri-food industry and researchers and complications around the border.

I am disappointed by the result but I accept it. The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and now it is up to the UK Government to negotiate a deal that has support across the UK and which recognises the specific challenges facing certain regions – in particular Northern Ireland.

Since the vote, we have seen Nicola Sturgeon do her best to try and fool the media and EU figures into thinking that Scotland could somehow remain in the EU when the rest of the UK leaves. This is fantasy and has no legal basis. The referendum was UK-wide, and therefore the result is UK-wide.

We have also seen Martin McGuinness and Enda Kenny raise the prospect of a border poll. These comments are only a distraction and further destabilise the situation. Anyone who thinks that a remain-supporting Unionist would vote to leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is living in a fantasy land.

What is really needed at this time are cool heads and a focus on getting the best possible exit deal for the United Kingdom. The UK Government will be leading the negotiations but the regions need to make sure their voices are heard. Whitehall does not have a good record when it comes to consulting the devolved institutions. Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff must not be bystanders to London in these negotiations.

Northern Ireland is of course the only part of the United Kingdom to share a land border with another EU Member State. That border will become the frontier between the UK and the European Union. What arrangements will then be in place is a major question. I was pleased to hear Theresa May state her commitment to the Union on the steps of Downing Street and her a desire to find a practical solution to the border issue is heartening. While the Prime Minister was correct to point out that the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and ROI pre-dates both countries’ EU membership, it has never operated with one in the EU and the other not – there is still therefore a degree of uncertainty. Furthermore will ‘leave’ campaigners and the many GB voters who voted to ‘take back control’ of our borders be happy with a deal that leaves the UK’s land border with the EU open?

These are just some of the issues that the UK Government will be grappling with and we need to make sure they are fully aware of our own specific concerns.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote it became clear that both the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive had made no preparations for a ‘leave’ result. Neither for that matter had Brussels.

We must come back after the summer recess with cool heads, a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities that face us and a collective willingness to secure the best deal possible for the UK. I and my Ulster Unionist colleagues will do everything possible to help realise that outcome as the situation develops.

 

 

 

 

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