Colum Eastwood’s EU cash claims ‘dreamland’: Jim Allister

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in front tof his election bus in Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in front tof his election bus in Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

A slogan on the side of Colum Eastwood’s European election campaign bus reflects a state of “dreamland versus reality,” Jim Allister has said.

Mr Allister, who is running against the SDLP leader in the poll later this month, said that by highlighting the €500 million sent from Europe each year, Mr Eastwood is “even less grounded” than he had previously thought.

The large slogan on the bus reads: “Europe sends up €500 million a year. Take back control of your future.”

The TUV leader said: “Two realities bring Colum Eastwood’s exaggerated claim of €500m pa from the EU to Northern Ireland up short: It’s all our own money in the first place, which is recycled from Brussels after the UK pays it in as one of its top bankrollers.

“It does not even equate to Northern Ireland’s pro rata share of the UK contribution – (3% of £20B = £600M).

“It is as nothing compared to the UK contribution to this part of the United Kingdom, yet Mr Eastwood’s primary policy is to end the British link and thereby stop the block grant.”

He went on to say: “Good luck then Mr Eastwood in surviving on what you think is Brussels’ €500M.”

He added: “So, if Colum Eastwood thinks recycling a modest pot of our own money is preferable to the largesse of the UK, then, he’s even less grounded than I thought.”

DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly also questioned the SDLP leader’s message.

In a Twitter message, Mrs Little-Pengelly said: “Wait until he finds out the UK sends us over £400 million a week!* – It will blow his mind!! *£10 billion + annual pension & welfare payments plus £11 billion ++ block grant and subsidy.”

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Eastwood said the “main priority is to stop Brexit and I think we still can.”

He said: “I think we can definitely stop a hard border on this island. That is what we are fighting for.

“That is why I am running and I think we can deliver it.”

Referring to a bus previously used by pro-Brexit campaigners, SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan tweeted: “We’ve found the big Red Bus! Painted it proudly in our Pro EU colours, corrected the lies and printed the truth!

“Europe sends us €500M a year!”

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said: “Colum Eastwood’s bus graphics may have seemed like a good idea for a photo call but have two major flaws.

“Firstly, the money we get from Brussels originates in UK pockets as we are net contributors to the EU. It is our own money coming back.

“Secondly, on Colum’s logic the SDLP would not be campaigning for a united Ireland as Northern Ireland is dependent upon the block grant.

“The United Kingdom is a net contributor to the EU budget, meaning that businesses, families and households add far more to the Brussels coffers than they receive in return. The referendum result sent a clear message that we must take back control of our money. This will benefit investment in front line services and allow us to spend our own money on tackling social and economic disparities between different regions and communities.

“Only the DUP has the strength and influence to ensure that Northern Ireland receives its fair share from Brexit dividends, including the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. We will continue to work with industry and the community and voluntary sector to ensure that future funding policy reflects local needs and places fewer burdens on projects.

“Cost-effective participation in specific EU funds can be in Northern Ireland’s interest after Brexit. This will allow our world class researchers, our students and our young people to travel, study and work abroad. Both governments and the EU have also provided solid guarantees of new PEACE Plus and INTERREG programmes under any Brexit scenario. This is positive and counteracts many of the scare tactics deployed both during the referendum and negotiations that followed.

“On 23rd May voters have an opportunity to send a message that the referendum result must be respected. It is time to tell Brussels again that the days of sending vast payments to the EU are over.

“While others focus on PR stunts the DUP will continue to lever Northern Ireland’s unique position at Westminster to ensure an independent UK outside the EU delivers better value for money for local people.”