Northern Ireland parties urge Donald Tusk to ‘defend’ Brexit backstop amid Boris Johnson calls to junk it
Donald Tusk has been urged by senior Northern Ireland politicians to continue "defending" the backstop in the face of Boris Johnson’s latest calls for it to be scrapped.
In a joint letter to the European Council chief, the province’s pro-Remain parties said the mechanism – which would ensure an open border in Ireland after Brexit – was “necessary” to safeguard the progress made in the years following The Troubles.
It comes after the Prime Minister branded the arrangement “anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK”, in a warning to European leaders that MPs would not vote for any deal which still contained it.
Mr Johnson, who has held crunch meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron this week, has vowed to quit the bloc “do or die” by 31 October.
But Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood, Naomi Long from the Alliance Party and the Greens’ Clare Bailey said they had “grave concerns about the current trajectory toward a no-deal Brexit and the impact this would have on our economy, our border and community cohesion”.
“It is our view that the progress made in developing integrated and enduring relationships on this island, politically, economically and socially, over the last 20 years is far too important to abandon,” they wrote.
“Particularly at a moment when those relationships are being tested.
“With that in mind, and with no functioning Executive or Assembly currently in place in Northern Ireland to give expression to the democratic wishes of people here, we write to you to confirm our support for the backstop contained within the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.
“It is our view that a legally operable guarantee to protect the Good Friday Agreement, maintain north-south co-operation and preserve the all-island economy and to prevent a return to physical infrastructure on our border or physical checks at or near the border is necessary to preserve the progress that we have made.”
“We trust that the approach adopted by the European Institutions to defend all that we have achieved will continue in the weeks ahead.”
The group pointed to analysis by the Northern Ireland Civil Service, which said around 40,000 jobs could be lost if the UK crashed out without a deal.
“The British government’s own analysis has predicted significant disruption to integrated supply chains across this island rendering cross-border trade in our agri-food sector virtually impossible for many operators,” they added.
“It has also warned that the open border that has underpinned our political settlement would be unsustainable within months.”
However DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson hit out at the warnings of a potential return to violence in the region.
"Those who peddle scare stories about barbed wire and soldiers on checkpoints are being irresponsible," he said.
"Neither London nor Dublin have any plans to go back to the borders of the 70s and 80s even in a no deal scenario.
"The Belfast Agreement was about balancing the views of unionists and nationalists yet these parties want to foist a deal on Northern Ireland which every unionist party opposes.
"So much for those parties’ commitments to a shared future.
"If the President of the European Council genuinely sees himself as a safeguard to peace and stability in Northern Ireland, then he will recognise the need to listen to the views of unionists."
Their interventions come after Ms Merkel told the PM he must find an alternative to the backstop in the next month if the UK is to quit the EU in October with a deal and without the mechanism as part of it.
However in a visit to Paris, Mr Johnson was warned by Mr Macron that the insurance clause is “indispensable” to any Brexit deal.