The SDLP and Irish Labour Party have issued a joint statement declaring firmly that, after the UK’s decision to quit the EU, having a land border on the island of Ireland is a situation of “complete unacceptability”.
While the UK as a whole backed the idea of an exit from the European Union (with the overall UK referendum result being 48.1 per cent Remain, against 51.9 per cent Leave), in Northern Ireland the Remain figure was about 55.8 per cent.
On Thursday night, the SDLP and Labour Party leaders issued a joint statement, which read in full: “At a meeting of the PES (Party of European Socialists – an umbrella body covering socialist parties across the continent) leaders in Paris on July 7, a common view of the consequences of the British vote on Brexit was presented to the gathering by the leaders of the Irish Labour Party Brendan Howlin TD and the leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood MLA.
“The unique implications for the island of Ireland were clearly set out by both leaders – including the complete unacceptability of a land border on the island;
“The imperative of preserving common travel between Ireland and the UK;
“The preservation of European involvement in The Good Friday Agreement and the centrality of trade between Ireland and the UK, particularly cross border trade in the island of Ireland.
“The meeting representing the second largest group in the European Parliament and nine EU Prime Ministers took careful note of the Irish position.”
The SDLP were key in helping to forge the Good Friday Agreement, alongside the UUP.
One of the key planks in the agreement is that all signatories “recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland... [and that] the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union”.
The agreement also states that the people of the island of Ireland, “by agreement between the two parts respectively”, must also back reunification.
The Good Friday Agreement was backed by more than 71 per cent of voters in Northern Ireland, and more than 94 per cent in the Republic.
The EU is mentioned a number of times in the Good Friday Agreement.
Among the occasions when it crops up is under the workings of the North/South Ministerial Council – a body aimed at fostering dialogue between the two governments on both sides of the border.
It states that the council will “consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework”.
It adds: “Arrangements to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings.”
The Irish Taoiseach had recently mooted the idea of a new cross-border body to discuss Brexit – a move that was rejected by Arlene Foster.