Michelle O’Neill: Sinn Fein will reject any assembly veto over backstop

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill. Photo Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill. Photo Liam McBurney/PA Wire

A restored executive cannot have any veto over the working of the border backstop, Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader has said.

Michelle O’Neill made clear that Sinn Fein would reject any move to bolster the powers of the devolved administration in relation to the backstop’s operation.

Devolution in Northern Ireland can only be resurrected if both of the main parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, agree to enter another powersharing coalition.

“There will not be any situation where there will be a veto handed to this Assembly,” said Mrs O’Neill.

Mrs O’Neill’s comments came in response to speculation that the Government may move to strengthen the role of the Assembly in domestic law in order to win DUP support for the Brexit withdrawal treaty.

Assembly structures mean the DUP could, with the assistance of a small number of like-minded MLAs, wield a veto on backstop matters by triggering the “petition of concern” voting mechanism.

Under the terms of the proposal withdrawal deal, the backstop would come into effect if a wider trade deal fails to materialise before the end of the Brexit implementation period.

If would tie the whole UK to a customs union and see Northern Ireland adhere to single market rules on goods in order to keep the Irish border free flowing.

The Government has already committed to giving Stormont a consultative role before a decision is made to either enter the backstop or extend the implementation period.

And, if the backstop does come into effect, the Stormont Assembly and Executive would be given a role in its operation, with the legislature being asked to consent to any new or amended EU laws applying to the region.

Mrs O’Neill said: “Of course there can be a consultative role, that was set out in the withdrawal agreement as it stands, but there cannot be any veto afforded to the DUP or anybody else in this situation.

“This is a desperate situation, this is chaos, this is catastrophic, and I believe the DUP and British government are taking a hatchet and sledgehammer to our local economy and the needs of people here, so there can’t be a situation where there would be a veto handed to the Assembly.

“The EU have been clear about that, because that’s not what’s in the withdrawal agreement, and I have spoken to the Tanaiste (Simon Coveney) this week and he also gave the same assurance that there would be no veto handed to an Assembly, that obviously doesn’t exist at this moment in time.”