Northern Ireland’s political leaders have been reacting to the emphatic rejection of Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal.
Mrs May lost this evening’s vote in the House of Commons by a massive 432 votes to 202.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the focus now must be on “securing a better deal for the UK”, while the UUP’s Robin Swann called on the government to “grab the process by the scruff of the neck and seek an extension to Article 50.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long MLA renewed her call for a second referendum, saying “now is the time for a People’s Vote”, and Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said the result of the vote had “deepened the Brexit crisis.”
Reacting to the result of the vote, Mrs Foster said: “By rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement, Parliament has acted in the best interests of the entire United Kingdom. The House of Commons has sent an unmistakable message to the Prime Minister and the European Union that this deal is rejected.
“Mrs May will now be able to demonstrate to the Brussels’ negotiators that changes are required if any deal is to command the support of Parliament.
“We will work with the Government constructively to achieve a better deal. That is our focus. Whilst some may wish to use this defeat to boost their political ambitions, we will give the Government the space to set out a plan to secure a better deal.”
Taking to Twitter after MPs voted, Ms O’Neill posted: “Brexit crisis has deepened further tonight. No Deal crash out is completely reckless & not in our peoples, households or businesses interests. Backstop is the bottom line and is not up for negotiation.”
Mr Swann said the result of the vote in the House of Commons had been “inevitable and entirely predictable.”
“The Prime Minister and the team around her have been trying to resurrect their doomed withdrawal agreement for weeks. They weren’t listening despite the will of Parliament, in opposition to this agreement, being clear for weeks,” he said.
“Attempts to manipulate this vote to be a decision between a bad deal and no deal were desperate in the extreme and have clearly backfired resulting in an emphatic defeat for the Government.
“Instead of more prevarication and reckless negotiating tactics the UK Government needs to recalibrate its negotiating position, grab this process by the scruff of the neck and seek an extension to Article 50. Then get the EU back to the negotiating table. The debate has clearly shown that there is no desire amongst the majority of MPs for a no deal Brexit.
“The EU’s claims that they want to defend the Belfast Agreement must now be backed up by actions that reflect their responsibility. The backstop needs dealt with and they know it. If they continue with their present intransigence, everyone will end up in a place where no-one wants to go.”
Mrs Long said the margin of defeat for the government was “surprising”, adding: “Alliance has always been clear there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit. The Brexit process has been defined by a flawed concept, incompatible red-lines, unrealistic expectations and imaginary solutions. Even today, 30 months on, there is still no clarity on what the UK wants in terms of Brexit.
“Parliament last week rejected a no deal Brexit, recognising it would be disaster for the UK, and a catastrophe for Northern Ireland.
“Now they have rejected the Withdrawal Agreement, despite the fact any negotiated Brexit will require a Withdrawal Agreement, including an open-ended, all weather backstop. This reality cannot be escaped or avoided. They have also comprehensively failed to offer any single alternative which commands a majority.
“It is now clear the only coherent way forward is to have a People’s Vote. Democracy is an active process, and given what we now know and the ongoing deadlock, the people of UK must have the right to have their say.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood commented: “There is no such thing as a good Brexit but if we are forced to leave the EU then Northern Ireland must to be protected through a backstop.
“The naive belief in Westminster that a better deal can be negotiated with Brussels is merely postponing the inevitable. That fact remains - there is no way to avoid a hard border in Ireland if Northern Ireland leaves the Customs Union and Single Market. That is why a backstop is essential. The SDLP have said this from day one.
“Northern Ireland’s economy and stability can’t be sacrificed because politicians in London have failed to recognise the obvious.”
Reacting to the result of the vote on Twitter, TUV leader Jim Allister posted: “Mrs May’s treacherous deal gets its just deserts. It deserved no better. PM needs to present EU choice of ditch the Backstop or face No Deal. No more rollover.”