Alliance's Brexit blueprint '˜poppycock from a laughing stock'

The Alliance Party's blueprints for how Northern Ireland should handle Brexit have been derided as 'poppycock' by a leading Leave campaign advocate.

Ian Paisley speaking at a pro-Brexit event in May 2016
Ian Paisley speaking at a pro-Brexit event in May 2016

Ian Paisley was speaking after Tuesday’s unveiling of Alliance’s nine-page report on possible scenarios for the Province after the UK quits the EU.

The document, titled ‘Bridges not Borders’, essentially restates the Alliance position that nothing whatsoever should change.

In summary, it says even if Great Britain leaves the single market (which the government intends to do), Northern Ireland should stay in it.

It also calls for a UK-wide retention of the customs union, which the government has likewise pledged to ditch.

The single market is the EU zone where barriers and tariffs on goods moving across borders have been removed.

It also includes a drive to create an EU-wide set of standards and regulations, and a commitment to allow the free movement of people.

The customs union is basically a part of the single market plan, and covers the banding together of EU states to impose collective tariffs on goods coming into Europe from elsewhere in the world.

The Alliance document said Northern Ireland staying in the single market would involve accepting continued free immigration from Europe and paying a contribution to the EU.

And whilst regulations may end up differing in Great Britain and Northern Ireland if the latter alone stays in the single market, Alliance said that the Province could “observe both EU and UK regulations”.

It suggested that the type of arrangement envisaged by the party “would be entirely consistent with the current constitutional position of Northern Ireland”.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said: “It is actually not possible for a region of a nation to stay in the single market or the customs union if the rest of the rest of the nation exits it.

“It is not actually possible, and frankly it is not desirable either. We’re leaving the EU. This is a revolution.”

As to the Alliance position being consistent with maintaining Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, he said: “That’s all poppycock. It’s not.

“The UK as a member state is leaving. It can’t leave bits of its member state in. We’re not a separate nation in that sense.

“They really have to stop pursuing the impossible. It actually makes them a laughing stock around the world, making these sort of suggestions.”

Steve Aiken, MLA for South Antrim and the UUP economy spokesman (who had backed the Remain campaign), said adopting different Brexit models for different parts of the UK would turn Northern Ireland into “some form of hybrid”.

He said: “When you look at the Good Friday Agreement, where there’s consent freely given by the people of Northern Ireland to remain within the UK until such time as a majority would wish otherwise, the actual structure of what Northern Ireland would be would be different.

“Very clearly it’d have to have a different legal framework if it was to be part of the single market and the customs union.”

He also noted Alliance’s call for “maximum” devolution to the Stormont Assembly to help the deal with what it hopes will be a unique Northern Irish Brexit deal.

“We don’t even have the competency to get the Assembly back up and running now,” said Mr Aiken.

“How could we have the competencies to run Northern Ireland as a semi-statelet, which is what that’d be?”