Deal or no deal? Derry nationalists and unionists divided as EU leaders prepare to contemplate 'no deal' Brexit

Division over Brexit continues.
Division over Brexit continues.

Local political leaders remain as divided as ever over Brexit ahead of this evening's European Council meeting after which, with no resolution of the Irish question, European leaders are set to start preparing for a 'no deal scenario'.

Both SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson have said London must not to be allowed to renege on its promise last December that in the event of 'no deal' the UK maintains "full alignment with the Internal Market and the Customs Union".

DUP MP Gregory Campbell, meanwhile, has called for London and Brussels to make good on their joint commitment last December that in the absence of a deal there will be "no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom".

Tonight European Union premiers will be briefed on the Brexit negotiations by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier during a working dinner in Brussels.

After discussing the lack of progress leaders, including the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, will then be asked to "decide on which next steps to take, including preparations for a no deal scenario".

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson said: "The European Parliament's Brexit Steering Group, in a public statement, has made it clear that it is committed to the backstop as agreed in December 2017 by the EU and the British government and again by Theresa May in March.

"This continued support from the European Parliament for the need for a workable and legally operational backstop is to be welcomed.

"The European Parliament will not give in to threats from the DUP and have made it clear that without a backstop the Parliament will not back the Withdrawal Agreement when MEPs vote on it.

"The Tory government should not give in to DUP threats and bluster either and allow a minority to undermine what has been agreed.

"The Irish government too should look at the position of the European Parliament and Brexit Steering Group and stand firm to ensure the backstop is protected and built upon."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “In her dogmatic approach throughout these Brexit negotiations, Mrs. May has backed herself into a corner.

“Her insistence that the UK as a whole must leave the Customs Union and Single Market has created the need for the backstop. Of course, she accepted this last December.

"If the Prime Minister continues to insist on a worst of all worlds Brexit for Britain, we will have to be protected. The EU has offered Northern Ireland a deal that will give us access to both the EU and British markets. The backstop is not ideal but it is our ultimate protection.

“It's time for the British government to stop pretending that they can do a deal that doesn't protect Northern Ireland."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: “There are some who perpetuate a myth that the only group of people who care about the Union are unionists in Northern Ireland. However, that is far from the case.

"There are many principled representatives from every part of the United Kingdom who value the Union and who will oppose any attempt to drive a wedge between its constituent parts. There is unity across the nation when it comes to standing against dangerous proposals which would undermine the Union.

"Indeed, the comments by the Scottish Conservative Leader last weekend highlighted the strength of support across the United Kingdom for maintaining the Union.

"Ruth Davidson’s position is not borne out of enthusiastic support for leaving the European Union; she was an advocate for Remain. However, Ruth Davidson recognises the impact of placing an international style border down the Irish Sea. She understands that such an outcome would be seized upon by separatists within the United Kingdom.

"The DUP wants to see a sensible deal which maintains the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. We will stand up for Northern Ireland but most important is the Union between us all. It is very clear that those same objectives are shared by many others across the United Kingdom. Both those who were ‘Leave’ as well as those who were ‘Remain’recognise that the four countries are stronger together.”

Brussels had long cast this week's European Council summit as the last chance to come to an agreement over the UK's withdrawal terms in time for its imminent departure from the EU at the end of March next year.

European Council President Donald Tusk had hoped to call an extraordinary council meeting in November to finalise such an agreement, however, it now looks likely 11th hour talks will continue with a view to reaching agreement by a further scheduled summit in December.