SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has commented ahead of the continuation of intensive talks at Stormont to re-establish the devolved institutions, and the start of official Brexit negotiations in Brussels.

Mr Eastwood said: "The SDLP will enter into the negotiations tomorrow with the same attitude we’ve had from the beginning – we’re there to bring back local power to the Assembly so that we can finally begin to tackle the mounting problems we face in health, education and in our economy.

"The SDLP is clear – two weeks is more than enough time to do the deal. The public will have every right to be unforgiving if another deadline is missed.

"Weekend reports regarding the precarious position of the British Prime Minister must not stall or delay getting the institutions back up and running. The SDLP is determined to re-establish institutions in the North which last for the long term regardless of whether the Theresa May led Government falls.

"The official beginning of the Brexit negotiations should also focus minds as to the importance of returning a local Assembly. Brexit is one the greatest challenges faced by this island since partition yet our local politics has failed to fully engage with its significance and scale.

"The absence of our institutions deprives us of our rightful voice at the Brexit table.

"I am particularly concerned by the mixed signals coming from the DUP. On the one hand Arlene Foster tells us she does not wish to see a hard border and on the other Ian Paisley tells us the DUP position supports “properly and fully leaving the EU customs union”.

"Every credible voice on these issues confirms that leaving the customs union means a hard border in Ireland. Somewhere along the road the DUP and their new friends in the Tory party will need to resolve that contradiction.

"Instead of feeding those contradictions, we must all be in the business of building an Irish solution to the Brexit problem. That means a deal which serves the unique circumstances on this island and a deal which protects the free movement of people and business across Ireland and into the EU."

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