Final speech at European Parliament for UUP’s Jim Nicholson

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson (right) with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson (right) with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier

Long-serving Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has made his last ever speech in the European Parliament.

The European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier was in Strasbourg to hear Mr Nicholson say it has been “a great pleasure and an honour” to represent the people of Northern Ireland at the European Parliament for three decades.

Addressing the MEPs in the chamber on Tuesday, Mr Nicholson said: “Last week’s decision to extend the Article 50 process was yet another example of the Brexit can being kicked down the road.

“The extension gives the opportunity to address the real problem. You will not be surprised Mr Barnier, that I still consider that problem to be the backstop.

“I will not change that view. The backstop has haunted these negotiations since the beginning and will continue to do so, as long as you retain your position.”

Mr Nicholson said he was not optimistic of a breakthrough that would ensure the UK left the EU with an agreed withdrawal plan within months.

“I can see no agreement at the end of October,” he said.

“I really believe now that it will take a new Commission; it will take a new Parliament; it will take new views to bring a solution to this problem.”

Mr Nicholson praised the European Union for its financial and other support during the worst years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, and went on to say: “If I may, this will be my last speech in this Parliament after 30 years.

“I want to take the opportunity to say that it has been a great pleasure and an honour to represent the people of Northern Ireland in this house for 30 years.”

However, following a meeting with Michel Barnier earlier yesterday, Mr Nicholson said “EU intransigence” is a problem.

“There is no doubt in my mind that a no deal Brexit remains a very real possibility.

“I have always been clear that this would be devastating for both the UK and the European Union but particularly for Northern Ireland.”

“The EU’s intransigence has increased the likelihood of a no deal Brexit – to avoid this scenario the Withdrawal Agreement will need to be re-opened.”