An SDLP MLA has called on Jeremy Corbyn to stop “cosying up” to the DUP over the issue of the Irish border backstop and focus instead on “protecting” the Belfast Agreement.
It comes after the Labour leader reached out to the DUP at the weekend and said his party is “ready to step in and negotiate seriously” to find an alternative Brexit deal with the EU.
He told Sky News that Arlene Foster rejected the backstop for “very good and sensible reasons” and that Labour’s version of Brexit would work for the DUP.
But SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said his sister party’s leader is “simply letting the people of this island down” by taking the DUP’s line on the backstop issue.
The West Tyrone representative claimed a hard Brexit “overwhelmingly harms the Good Friday Agreement”, and argued that the backstop is needed to protect the peace accord.
“Rather than cosying up to the DUP, or anyone else, the Labour Party should be calling for another referendum and, at the very least, protecting the North through the backstop,” he told the News Letter.
Mr McCrossan’s remarks come after his party leader, Colum Eastwood, said he was “bewildered” to hear Mr Corbyn reject the backstop element of the withdrawal agreement and warning it could threaten the integrity of the Union.
Mr Eastwood told the Irish News: “I have no problem with Labour MPs who have a genuine view that they can vote this withdrawal agreement down but in all circumstances the backstop must be banked.
“I find it really frustrating that Jeremy Corbyn has told us he recognises the needs of Northern Ireland and then chooses to use the backstop as the basis of his opposition to the deal.”
Mr Corbyn’s warnings that the backstop could damage the Union have also drawn criticism from within his own ranks, as South Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn accused him of jeopardising his party’s reputation as protectors of the 1998 agreement.
However, DUP MLA Jim Wells reiterated his party’s belief that the backstop is not needed and must be ditched if the prime minister hopes to get her withdrawal deal through Parliament.
And he warned that, by supporting the backstop, the SDLP was in effect asking for the Irish government to be handed “a permanent veto on the constitutional position and economic development of NI”.
He told the News Letter: “Jeremy Corbyn, for all his faults, realises that the DUP are absolutely correct on this issue.
“Once we are in the backstop, there will be no way out. The legal advice given to the government by the attorney general makes it clear that the backstop will be permanent as long as the EU wishes it to be.
“But the Irish Republic will never agree to releasing us from that arrangement, as it weakens the Union and makes the prospect of a united Ireland more likely.”