EXCL Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland condemns Jeremy Corbyn over backstop comments

Posted On: 
31st January 2019

Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland has hit out at Jeremy Corbyn after he called for the Irish backstop to be removed from Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Jeremy Corbyn during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border
Credit: 
PA Images

The Labour leader said the plan - which would see the UK locked in a customs union with the EU until a trade deal can be agreed guranteeing an open border in Ireland - was “one-sided” in favour of Brussels.

Speaking after holding talks with Theresa May, Mr Corbyn said the backstop would "be the first time in British history" that the country entered into a treaty arrangement which it had "no right to leave because a decision could only be made by the other side".

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But Claire Hanna, Brexit spokesperson for the SDLP, said Mr Corbyn was wrong to condemn the backstop, which she said was vital to making sure the Good Friday Agreement's provisions on an open border in Ireland were kept.

She told PoliticsHome: "We’re frustrated by it and I think he is being a bit disingenuous and perhaps using it to avoid explaining his specific issues with the deal.

"From our perspective there are plenty of legitimate reasons to reject the withdrawal agreement as it stands, but the backstop and the mechanism to prevent a hard border really isn’t one of them.

"I think really [the backstop is] a tool to allow Corbyn to be vague about what Labour’s Brexit position is and what they will accept."

The South Belfast MLA said Labour had “departed” from its “excellent heritage and credentials” with regards to the Good Friday Agreement by taking its position on the backstop.

Ms Hanna added: “I’m not suggesting for a minute that Corbyn doesn’t or didn’t support the Good Friday Agreement, but he is curiously and baselessly aligning himself with people who have never had any integrity as regards the Good Friday Agreement.”

Labour MP Conor McGinn also hit out a Mr Corbyn on Twitter.

He said: "I’m disappointed by Jeremy Corbyn's comments on the backstop. I oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal and there are lots of reasons to do so. Having a mechanism to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland isn’t one of them. We must stand by the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Corbyn has insisted that Labour would negotiate a new post-Brexit customs union with the bloc that would not require the backstop, although Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said earlier this month that it would most likely be needed regardless.

Meanwhile Claire Tighe, the vice chair of Labour Irish, said that “no matter how great the desire to see a change in government, we cannot forget our responsibility to the peace process and to protecting its integrity”.

Writing in Progress magazine, she said: "Labour must be unequivocal in this, because playing politics with the peace process is not an option, no matter how tempting it is to court the DUP votes and sway the balance of power in a confidence vote; it is not worth the risk to the peaceful stability across our islands.

"Whatever totally legitimate criticism we want to make of the government’s deal, of which there are many; picking out the backstop is not the right one."