SF is trying to save face after special status setback: MEP

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt MEP. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt MEP. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Sinn Fein is trying to save face after the defeat for its Brexit plan for special status for Northern Ireland, an Ulster Unionist MEP has said.

Jim Nicholson said: “After last week’s embarrassing defeat which saw Sinn Fein’s so-called ‘special status’ proposal roundly rejected by MEPs, it is clear that they are desperately trying to make up for lost ground.”

Mr Nicholson said that “proposals to give the Irish Republic more MEPs to represent Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland would breach the Belfast Agreement”.

Referring to what he described as a “throwaway line” by the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt about extra Irish MEPs, Mr Nicholson said it was a “ridiculous proposal”.

“Firstly, there is no precedent for this,” he said. “As was pointed out by the Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, when we leave the European Union, the United Kingdom will be a ‘third country’. MEPs from the Irish Republic represent their respective constituencies – it would be legally dubious for them to have a constituency outside of the EU.

“But more significantly, it would be a clear breach of the Belfast Agreement. In both the negotiating mandate of the EU, and in the Parliament’s own priorities for the negotiation, there is a commitment to protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in its entirety. So this proposal would actually breach the EU’s own red lines.”

“I have written to Mr Verhofstadt outlining these concerns. Northern Ireland is not a bargaining chip. Perhaps Mr Verhofstadt could use the summer break to read up on the very same Belfast Agreement which he has pledged to protect.”