The UUP leader Robin Swann and MEP Jim Nicholson told the EU’s chief negotiator in a meeting this morning of a “growing perception” that the EU is siding with “nationalists against unionists”.
Mr Swann and Mr Nicholson met Michel Barnier in Strasbourg this morning. In the meeting, the UUP figures also told the EU chief negotiator that the language used by the Irish government has been “less than helpful”.
They reminded Mr Barnier that unionists “who have have voted remain definitely did not vote to leave the UK.”
Following the meeting, the pair issued a joint statement which summarised the points they made in the meeting with the EU chief negotiator.
The statement read: “It was a constructive, business-like meeting. We were keen to address a number of the misconceptions currently being peddled by some. For instance, despite what others say, unionists who may have voted remain, definitely did not vote to leave the UK. It was a democratic vote which all unionists respect. Unionists are unionists for a reason. They want to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We wanted Mr Barnier to be absolutely clear about that.
“The tone of the language being used by some, more specifically the Irish Government, is less than helpful. The Irish Government in particular seem intent on using Brexit as a Trojan Horse to pursue Irish Unity by other means. They are undermining the very Agreement which they claim to defend and it looks deliberate. We felt it was important that Mr Barnier heard from a party that actually negotiated the Belfast Agreement and negotiated in the Principle of Consent, which is the bedrock of the relative peace we have today.”
The UUP statement continues: “The Irish Government cannot continue to hold contradictory positions; on one hand claiming that they are defending the Belfast Agreement, but on the other undermining one of its fundamental principles on an almost daily basis.
“We also told Mr Barnier that Northern Ireland welcomed the help and assistance of the EU over the years through its peace programmes. It is widely recognised that the EU did great work in this area, but that good work is now being undermined because there is a growing perception that the EU is now siding with nationalists against unionists. We impressed upon Mr Barnier of the potential downside of doing so. We have a relative peace in Northern Ireland but we don´t want that equilibrium being upset by Northern Ireland being used as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations.”
The statement added: “We invited Mr Barnier to come to Northern Ireland and speak directly to unionists to get their views.”