Brexit is prolonging political vacuum in Northern Ireland: SNP

Brexit is the “elephant in the room” which is prolonging the political vacuum in Northern Ireland, an SNP MP has said.

Northern Ireland spokesman Gavin Newlands argued the “broader instability” caused by Brexit is a central reason why it has proven so difficult to restore the devolved institutions.

Theresa May’s Government, he said, has become “totally distracted by Brexit and internal party infighting”.

Speaking during the second reading of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill, the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said such legislation had “sadly become necessary”, but added a political vacuum must not become the “new normal” in Northern Ireland.

He said Northern Ireland is the “central conversation” in the Brexit talks and therefore it is “vital that its voice is heard”.

“As the shambolic Brexit process is a central reason for the ongoing crisis, this Government has a responsibility to ensure talks progress swiftly,” he said.

Brexit, he warned, is “wreaking havoc on every aspect of politics in these islands”, adding: “The broader instability caused by Brexit is a central reason why it’s proven so difficult to restore the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

“There are many reasons why the Executive and Assembly collapsed, but it is the elephant in the room – Brexit – which is prolonging the concerning political vacuum.”

Gavin Newlands
Gavin Newlands

He went on: “March is quickly approaching and we still have no confirmation of plans to extend the period for withdrawal, the threat of a new border becomes closer by the minute.

“Northern Ireland is the central conversation in the Brexit talks, therefore it is vital that its voice is heard.”

Mr Newlands said Northern Ireland voted by 56% to remain in the EU, just as 62% of Scots did, and he urged the Government to pursue a policy of staying within the single market and customs union.

He said: “The Government continues trying to ignore Scotland, well they also ignore the people of Northern Ireland, and if the UK Government ploughs on with a no-deal hard Brexit, it will wreak further havoc on the businesses, public services and entire economies of all within the UK, and that is nothing short of economic vandalism of the highest order.”

Fine speech by @theSNP Northern Ireland Spokesperson @GavNewlandsSNP reminding UK Govt to listen to the people of the north the majority of whom voted #Remain but whose voice is not heard in @HouseofCommons#NorthernIrelandBill#Brexit

— Joanna Cherry QC MP (@joannaccherry) October 24, 2018

Referring to the European Research Group (ERG), he said, its “entirely regressive aims are not the public interest”.

Leading Tory Brexiteer Steve Baker earlier announced he was withdrawing amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill intended to prevent the backstop being implemented.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley intervened, saying: “He (Mr Baker) withdrew those amendments because he recognised the necessity of this Bill for the people of Northern Ireland, and I do want to thank him for having done so.

“Withdrawing those amendments because it has meant that the people of Northern Ireland who need their public services to continue to be delivered will be able to have that, because this Bill will not have been affected by amendments that would have served to wreck the Bill.”