Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has criticised calls by European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market and customs union. Mr Nicholson pointed out that such an arrangement would 'place an international border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom,' deny UK national sovereignty over Northern Ireland and would therefore breach the Belfast Agreement which MEPs and EU leaders have already pledged to protect.
Next week, MEPs will debate a resolution by Mr Verhofstadt on the state of play of the Brexit negotiations.
Mr Nicholson said:
“Keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market with the rest of the United Kingdom outside, would place an international border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and breach the national sovereignty of the United Kingdom over Northern Ireland. It would seriously harm our trading relationship with our most important market, a market in which we are at present fully integrated and which forms part of our own country.
“It is not for the European Parliament or the 27 remaining Member States to dictate the position of Northern Ireland. The Belfast Agreement which Guy Verhofstadt says he wants to defend is very clear. Northern Ireland is a full integral part of the United Kingdom, and it is only the people of Northern Ireland who will decide our future not the EU.
“I will be continuing my engagement with the UK Government to ensure that the principle of consent is fully respected at the negotiating table. It is becoming increasingly clear that Brussels is trying to use Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip, contrary to the principle of consent and contrary to the social and economic interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
“I am meeting Mr Verhofstadt again next week and will be repeating these concerns. If MEPs really want to protect the Belfast Agreement and the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland, they should oppose any attempt to place an international border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”