Stormont politicians should be kicking the Prime Minister’s door in to secure protections for Northern Ireland’s interests in Brexit negotiations, the Assembly was told.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was speaking in Stormont as he tabled a debate on the need for special status to reflect the region’s free-flowing land border with the Irish Republic.
He questioned why Theresa May had not replied to a letter sent by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in August outlining economic risks associated with a UK exit from the EU.
“We should be kicking the door in of the British Prime Minister to ensure the interests of the people of Northern Ireland are protected,” said Mr Eastwood, the leader of one of Stormont’s two official opposition parties.
“I don’t hear anything coming from the British Government that would give us any confidence that the issue of people here is at the top of their agenda.”
Mr Eastwood also heavily criticised the substance of the Government’s oft-repeated pledge that there would be no return to a hard border in Ireland.
He said if free movement was to remain between north and south then the only way for the UK to impose border control would be between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.
“If we are not going to have a border like we did in the past, if we are not going to control the border at Bridge End (Co Donegal) or at Newry (Co Down) or at anywhere across this island, where are we going to control it?” he said.
“My strong belief is the only practical place and the best place to control the border into Britain is at Stansted airport, Heathrow airport, any port that you want to name - because it won’t be possible to do it here.”
Despite being a fellow Remainer, Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd criticised Mr Eastwood’s remarks, particular his comment in reference to Mrs May.
“If Mr Eastwood wants to kick her door in then go and kick it in because I think we have to caution the language we use. I often find that those who call for doors to be kicked in aren’t the ones who do the kicking.”
During Monday’s debate at Parliament Buildings, Democratic Unionist member Christopher Stalford, a strong Brexit advocate, ridiculed the idea that certain parts of the UK could gain special status within the EU.
He noted that while Northern Ireland voted Remain, certain constituency areas voted to leave the EU.
“Maybe Co Antrim should stay part of the United Kingdom but the rest should stay part of the European Union,” he said.
“This is the logic of saying we should divide the country up into certain areas.
“Maybe we should carve off the eastern quarter of Belfast and it should stay out of the European Union but the other three quarters should stay in - this is the logic that seeks to divide.
“Where does it end - does London secede from the Union too?”