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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 8 April, 2020

Sinn Féin seeks Downing St meeting after May makes backstop 'overture to DUP'

A white paper on Northern Ireland was published today, offering powers to the Stormont Assembly in relation to the Irish backstop.

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has said that there’s a possibility an “accidental no-deal Brexit” could still happen, but that after the series of votes in the House of Commons yesterday she didn’t think it would come to pass.

She also said that she was seeking a meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May after a white paper on Northern Ireland was published, aimed at reassuring those with concerns about Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom under the backstop.

Her comments were made after a meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today, as a series of votes take place in the UK parliament on the divisive Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The meeting with Barnier, in which Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O’Neill also attended, was to ensure that “Ireland doesn’t become collateral damage in the Tory Brexit,” McDonald said.

She told that they sought assurances from Barnier that they still stood with Ireland, as the UK government seeks “comfort, clarity and assurances” to try to get the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement passed in a House of Commons vote next Tuesday.

We want to be sure and need to be sure that whatever assurances are given, that they don’t represent an unravelling of the very basic protections that have been achieved for Ireland in the Irish Protocol (or the backstop).
We have been assured, not just by Michel Barnier but by others, that that will not be the case.

She added that after the House of Commons votes yesterday, that it was clear that there isn’t a majority for a no-deal Brexit, but that it still isn’t clear what they do want.

“A no-deal Brexit could happen by accident or by design, I think it’s something that we need to not panic over at this stage, and there can be no question of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

I think a no-deal Brexit could happen, I don’t think it will, but it certainly could.

She said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, that Theresa May and the Irish government have been told that a border poll on Irish unity should be held.

The Northern Ireland white paper

On the two-year anniversary of the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, the UK government published a 13-page-long white paper on Northern Ireland and the Brexit deal – an attempt at reassuring the DUP and other MPs over the Irish backstop provisions.

In the white paper, the British government commits to giving Stormont Assembly a vote on whether or not to extend transition period, or go into the backstop. This isn’t legally binding, however, and isn’t the “veto for Stormont on the backstop” that the DUP had asked for.

The UK government also commits to giving the Stormont Assembly a ‘lock’ on accepting any new laws/directives from the EU when the backstop comes into force.

McDonald said that they were seeking a meeting with Theresa May on this white paper and what it would mean.

“I can only surmise at this stage that this is a ruse to placate the DUP,” she said.

“It’s very clear that the Tories are trying to placate the DUP. From what I hear, they have failed in that effort and I understand that the DUP have rejected their overtures.

The DUP’s position on Brexit is at odds with the political consensus across Ireland… they’ve been utterly, utterly reckless and seem intent on a Brexit at any and all costs. 

Today, DUP MP Gregory Campbell attacked Sinn Féin’s policy of abstentionism with Westminster.

“Sinn Fein appears to revel in its own irrelevance,” he said.

At a time when votes in the House of Commons have never been more crucial, Sinn Féin MPs stand on the side-lines as little more than political commentators. 
 There is an almost stunning level of irony in an MP who refuses to represent anyone attempting to tell others how they should vote in Parliament. 

Speaking to Sky News earlier, the Sinn Féin leader said when asked whether her MPs would take their seats: “I’m an Irishwoman, I have no business in Westminster.”

“Sinn Fein MPs have never taken their seats at Westminster, in fact, the first woman elected to the House of Commons was [Sinn Féin member] Countess Markievicz, who was in jail at the time.

[Sinn Féin has] no business in Westminster, and even if Sinn Féin MPs did take their seats, it would add a lot more heat than light… It’s for the British people to have their debate, and it falls to us to represent our country of Ireland.

She also acknowledged that although there were problems with the European Union, “Brexit was never the answer” to those problems.

“If the question was there is a need for a radical change in direction of the European project, then I say absolutely, but Brexit, and a Tory Brexit at that, was never the answer.”

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