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Tories accused of ‘playing fast and loose’ with Good Friday Agreement | Politics News

Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers have condemned the Conservative Party for the impact of Brexit on the region.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill told Sky News the current government had “played fast and loose” with the Good Friday Agreement.

Emma Little-Pengelly, of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said Northern Ireland was the victim of the Tories having “botched Brexit”.

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Deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly
Image:
Deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly

Doug Beattie, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader, accused the “chaotic” Tory government of “destroying the cohesion of the United Kingdom”.

Colum Eastwood, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), said the Conservative Party had been “wrecking the place” for 14 years.

And Naomi Long, leader of the neutral Alliance Party, said the election offered the opportunity for a “reset” on relations.

In Northern Ireland, there are five main parties contesting 18 seats at Westminster: two unionist, two nationalist and one neutral.

Brexit outcome in their own words

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein: “I think there’s an opportunity now with what potentially looks like a Labour government coming into play to actually reverse the damage of Brexit. And actually, I would hope that we get to the point where actually we reverse the Brexit decision altogether.

“That may not be where Labour are headed, but I think there is an opportunity to reset relationships, critically between London and Dublin, because those have been very much fractured because of the Brexit debate.”

Emma Little-Pengelly, DUP: “The Conservative Party and the UK government botched Brexit and Northern Ireland was the victim of that. We called out the Conservative Party on this at every single stage.

“We had to fight incredibly hard to try to undo the damage made by the decisions made by the Conservative Party in government. But of course it was us fighting for that, while others were agitating and pushing for rigorous implementation of that really bad deal.”

Naomi Long, Alliance: “For me now what we need to do looking forward is say, how do we make the benefits of the Windsor Framework work [to] our advantage? We have a unique position in Northern Ireland in terms of trade.

“We can trade freely into GB, we can trade freely with the Irish Republic, but more than that, we are a foot in the European Union.”

Colum Eastwood, SDLP: “Brexit has been a disaster for the whole of the UK, I would argue, economically and in many other ways, but we felt it much more keenly here because we share a border with the European Union, so we had to do an awful lot of work to put things back together after the mess that was made by Brexit and Boris Johnson and the DUP.

“Finally we’ve bit of a settled view, but from our perspective, there’s no better outcome than actually being back in the European Union lock, stock and barrel.”

Doug Beattie, UUP: “Brexit was a defining moment. It absolutely undermined the cohesion of the United Kingdom, and I think we can see the outworkings of that even today.

“And whatever government gets in – and we all think it’s going to be a Labour government – I think they’re going to have to work on that cohesion as one of their main outputs. But what came afterwards was an absolute series of disasters.”

Ms O’Neill defended Sinn Fein’s policy of not taking its seats in Westminster in opposition to British rule in Northern Ireland.

“The benefit of Sinn Fein is that we are an all-island team with representation in Belfast, in Dublin, in London, in the United States and also now in Europe,” she said.

“That’s unique to any other party across the North.”

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The DUP faces the electorate with a new leader – its former leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson having been charged with historical sex offences.

Asked if her party could be trusted given the outcome of Brexit – a border in the Irish Sea – Ms Little-Pengelly said the DUP was the only party to achieve changes to the protocol.

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Ms Long said Alliance’s hope of more seats did not lie in a split unionist vote but in more people choosing “progressive politics”.

Mr Eastwood said the SDLP should not be written off because it would “show up” and vote on important issues like “genocide in Gaza”.

And Mr Beattie conceded that he would take “personal responsibility” if the UUP failed to win a seat at Westminster this time around.

Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
Image:
Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

Invited to express their aspirations in three words, the parties demonstrated that they had more in common than people think.

Three of the five chose the words “progressive” and two of them wrote “positive” – language that has been in short supply in Northern Ireland.

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