Alliance MLA Stephen Farry has said that the choice facing Northern Ireland is to either discuss and negotiate some form of special status in relation to the European Union, or see Northern Ireland default to becoming an anomaly in terms of the British Isles and European Union.
Mr Farry was speaking in an Assembly debate on EU Special Status for Northern Ireland.
Stephen Farry said: “It is essential that Northern Ireland’s unique status in the EU is recognised and nurtured. The revelation that there will be no-one directly representing Northern Ireland’s interests at the Prime Minister’s Brexit Cabinet Committee is deeply worrying and will undoubtedly disadvantage the achieving of special status.
“Northern Ireland is a distinct political entity, with the right to determine its own political future, and this region very clearly voted to Remain. Overall, Brexit is bad and everyone across the UK is set to suffer some degree of consequence from this vote.
“Northern Ireland is particularly vulnerable in a number of areas. We receive much more per head from EU funds than we would from any Barnett consequentials, particularly in agricultural support. Our recently improving economy has still to truly lift off, with unfettered access to the single market a key driver in this recovery. There is great uncertainty over potential borders to people or goods being erected somewhere within these islands. We have real concerns for the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement, which was a finely balanced settlement in terms of the three strands.
“The UK Government has signalled a greater likelihood of a hard Brexit, and the devastating implications for the prosperity of this region are becoming ever clearer. While we can trade with both the rest of the world and the EU, it is through the Single Market that we can best open up trading opportunities.
“Already, people born in Northern Ireland have the right to be Irish citizens, and therefore EU citizens. We have large parts of our economy, such as agri-food, which are organised on a north – south basis. To date there has been no clarity on how the interface between the UK and the EU, and the movement of EU nationals and goods and services, will be managed.
“All these factors clearly support the proposal for special status, but as yet there is no understanding of what it would look like. The key factor is the choice between a managed special status and an unmanaged anomaly emerging, where undoubtedly Northern Ireland will lose out.
“Not being represented at the Brexit Cabinet Committee severely limits the opportunities for Northern Ireland, while the disjointed response from the Executive means only the parties not in Government are actively promoting our interests. This is a situation that has to change.”