OPINION: ‘Brexit means Brexit’ - what does that mean?

A poster erected during EU negotiator Michel Barnier's recent visit to Derry and below Mark H Durkan and Theresa May.
A poster erected during EU negotiator Michel Barnier's recent visit to Derry and below Mark H Durkan and Theresa May.

‘Brexit means Brexit’, so the British Government keeps telling us. However, two years on from the referendum, none of us know exactly what Brexit means yet.

Despite the rhetoric and the ramblings of the British Government, they are yet to give us anything concrete on our future with Europe.

The SDLP has always argued that we are better placed in Europe than out of it. That’s why we were the only party in Northern Ireland to officially campaign to remain. Sinn Fein - who have, until recently, always been anti-Europe- put up shiny posters lamenting the result after the referendum and People Before Profit decided, after campaigning to leave the European Union, it would try to fudge its Brexiteer position.

And it’s just that fudge that we are witnessing in the aftermath of the referendum after nothing but fake news and false promises before the referendum. Just this week, Vote Leave were found to have broken electoral law. Truly shocking and shameful.

Also this week, the British Government pushed ahead with its Brexit plans. This week they could have been stopped. But they weren’t.

A series of tight votes in Westminster saw the British Government pass its Brexit proposals by, in some cases, just three votes. Seven MPs from Sinn Fein, the party that says they will do everything to stop Brexit, were absent, as always, and did not vote.

In this Parliament, the voices of Northern Ireland who voted to remain are either misrepresented by the DUP or unrepresented by Sinn Fein.

While the DUP row in behind Theresa May, giving her support for the Brexit none of us voted for, Sinn Fein simply don’t turn up.

They won’t and, by failing to do so, they gift Theresa May a free hand to bring in Brexit - possibly the hardest of Brexits, risking a border in Ireland.

Now I know Sinn Fein will argue they got elected to abstain from Parliament. But is that really the case? They put up posters saying they would stop Brexit, stop borders and stop Tory cuts. But the truth is Sinn Fein introduced Tory cuts with the DUP in the Assembly when the SDLP urged them not to.

And, the simple truth is that, this week, if Sinn Féin’s MPs had gone to vote against the Tory Brexit, the UK Government would have been defeated numerous times.

So, when we look at the fudge and the fluster from Theresa May and the Brexiteers, we also need to look closer to home. With the DUP and Sinn Fein abdicating responsibility by not forming an Executive, and through misrepresentation or no representation at Westminster, people will, no doubt, be frustrated. We have a right to be and we are right to be.

This week, the SDLP will meet the Prime Minster and we will ensure the voices of people across the North are heard.

But, if we as Irish people are, to borrow a phrase, to “take back control” to protect our interests, to create opportunities and to actually improve people’s lives here, then we need to see through and reject all the flannel, fluff and fluster - we don’t need shiny posters, we need action. That’s what true representation is.