Colum Eastwood has warned Westminster politicians there can’t be any British withdrawal deal from the European Union without a backstop mechanism for the border in Ireland still in place.
In the event that the UK and EU cannot reach an agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, Northern Ireland will remain within the European Union's regulatory and customs arrangements indefinitely to prevent the emergence of a hard border.
Speaking after Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal deal was resoundingly defeated on Tuesday night, the SDLP leader said the reality was that the result of the vote illustrated “how far removed Westminster is removed from our unique circumstances here.”
Mr Eastwood added: “There is no such thing as a good Brexit, but if we are forced to leave the EU then Northern Ireland must be protected through a backstop.
“The naive belief in Westminster that a better deal can be negotiated with Brussels is merely postponing the inevitable. The fact remains-there is no way to avoid a hard border in Ireland if Northern Ireland leaves the Customs Union and Single Market. That is why a backstop is essential. The SDLP have said that from day one.
“Northern Ireland’s economy and stability can’t be sacrificed because politicians in London have failed to recognise the obvious.”
However, EU planning notices published in December said that in the event of a no deal situation every consignment of animal produce, including food, coming into European Union territory from the UK would be required to undergo checks at the point of entry.
There was no suggestion in the EU publication that the Republic of Ireland would be exempt from such checks.
And, prior to her withdrawal agreement defeat on Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May again asserted that there would be no room for manoeuvre on border checks in the event of a no deal situation. In that case, the Irish Government would be expected to apply EU checks in full.
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