May accused of ‘enormous act of bad faith’ over border backstop

The main pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland have again joined forces, this time accusing the UK Government of an “enormous act of bad faith” over the border backstop.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and Green Party NI said that while any opportunity to reconsider the decision to leave the EU should be taken, the withdrawal deal which the Prime Minister previously sign up to would have mitigated the worst impacts of Brexit.

The parties, which have recently presented a united stance on a number of Brexit issues, criticised Theresa May’s decision to go back to Europe to try to find an alternative to the backstop.

The contentious backstop measure would have seen Northern Ireland adopt a different regulatory framework to the rest of the UK if a wider trade deal failed to materialise after the end of the Brexit transition period.

The mechanism, which would also have seen the whole UK remain in a customs union with the EU, faced huge opposition in the Commons.

A parliamentary amendment seeking an alternative to the backstop was passed by MPs on Tuesday, with Mrs May subsequently signalling her intent to go back to the EU to try to renegotiate that aspect of the deal.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the Stormont parties that campaigned for Remain in the Brexit referendum insisted the backstop was a “vital insurance policy”.

Northern Ireland voted 56% to Remain in the 2016 vote.

“While it may never need to be deployed, the backstop is the guarantee in all circumstances that no hard border will be re-established on this island,” the parties said.

“Prime Minister Theresa May and her government in their attempts to abandon the backstop have demonstrated an enormous act of bad faith.

“Abandoning the backstop would put at real risk the interests, rights and entitlements of the citizens, households, businesses and the Good Friday Agreement endorsed overwhelmingly in 1998.”

The statement was co-signed by Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance party leader Naomi Long and Green Party NI leader Claire Bailey.

They added: “While Westminster has voted this week against a No Deal Brexit, it is non-legally binding, and therefore no steps have yet been taken to prevent a catastrophic crash out from the EU on 29 March.

“The EU has been crystal clear in stating that they will not reopen the negotiation on the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop.

“We urge the EU to remain firm in that position and call on the British Government to reconsider the reckless path that they have adopted.”