OPINION: Brexit and Westminster... ‘Abstain from the fight or take it to them?’ - SDLP Leader

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood. (Stephen Latimer Photography)
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood. (Stephen Latimer Photography)

Over the last three years, people in this city and across the North have been forced to endure and adapt to seismic political and constitutional events that, even under normal circumstances, would pose serious challenges for us all.

We have lurched from disaster to disaster – the EU referendum, RHI, the collapse of powersharing... There’s no doubt that most people are now suffering from crisis fatigue.

It’s important for everyone to realise, though, that over the next few months Ireland is facing a national emergency. A no-deal Brexit is a fundamental threat to people, communities and jobs on this island the likes of which we haven’t experienced in a very long time. The civil service predicts that up to 40,000 jobs could be lost in a no-deal scenario, which Boris Johnson and the DUP refuses to rule out. We know, from bitter experience, that when the chips are down and jobs are on the line, it’s communities in the North West that suffer most. We can’t let that happen. I don’t like it but Irish interests are being decided and determined in London.

We have exercised our political authority and influence in Dublin and Brussels. Our proposal for special status for the North has evolved into the dominant narrative that led to the design of the backstop. But the power to stop Boris and stop Brexit rests at Westminster. The future we voted for in the 2016 referendum – a stronger economy with access to a market of 500m people, investment in hard and soft infrastructure projects to increase connectivity and jobs, the freedom to live, work and travel across these islands without impediment – has been abandoned by those who sided with the Tories and those who refuse to go and oppose them. Instead we are being railroaded into a future of hardship and poverty.

There are solutions to the problems we face: the backstop, membership of the customs union and single market, maintaining our relationship with Europe and maximising our drawdown of funds to build new roads and rail, invest in new jobs and diminish the influence of the border.

But the first step is taking this Tory/DUP government down. In this city that means facing up to a simple choice – should we abstain from the fight ahead or do we take it to them wherever and whenever possible? We’re up for the fight.