We speak for majority, insist pro-Remain parties

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Northern Ireland’s four pro-Remain parties have insisted they speak for the majority in the region.

Senior figures from Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party stated their support for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement after meeting business leaders at Stormont on Monday.

Northern Ireland as a region voted for the UK to remain as part of the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

However the biggest political party, the Democratic Unionists, backed the Leave campaign and have opposed the withdrawal agreement.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party claim to be the voice of the majority in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to the media after meeting business leaders, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said the parties speak for a “cross community majority”.

“We collectively as four pro-Remain parties have been consistent in saying we speak for a cross-community majority of people here who voted to remain and clearly as we enter into the next number of weeks, this really is crunch time, this really is a critical time, it’s a time for practical thinking,” she said.

“What’s on the table currently in the form of the withdrawal agreement is the least worst outcome, it is by no means a brilliant outcome, it by no means answers all the questions that businesses have here, but the reality is the economic facts speak for themselves, the business community very much come at this from that practical point of view so I think our conversation this morning was useful.

“And whilst we chart our way through the next number of weeks I think it is important that we are consistent, we remain firm on the facts, we remain firm there is no good to come from Brexit but that we remain firm that the withdrawal agreement is much better than a crash-out Brexit.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood congratulated the business community for “standing up not for themselves but society in Northern Ireland”.

“They know the impact the hard Brexit will have on all of us, it will be devastating if we get to that point, so it’s very important we make this clear, we don’t think there is a good Brexit but if we are going to have one, let’s try and limit the damage to our communities and our businesses and our society here, that’s what the backstop does,” he said.

“We need to bank that backstop, it is our ultimate insurance policy and I would appeal to people across the water who have a vote in two weeks time, particularly people in the Labour Party who have a very keen interest in supporting our peace process and all the political progress we have had over the last 20 years, this is an opportunity to once again step in and protect the progress that you were involved in helping bring about.

“It is absolutely essential and we are all saying it, we are saying it as a collective political majority, we are saying it as a civic society from across all the different sectors, and our communities are saying it as well, we need your help, we need your protection, we need you to vote for this deal.”

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described the withdrawal agreement as “as good as it gets”.

“This can’t be unpicked, it can’t be renegotiated,” he said.

“The focus has to be on banking the backstop as the floor on which we can build in terms of wider relationships.

“It also has to be contrasted with the catastrophic implications of a no-deal situation which will have major implications for people in terms of their jobs here, consumers and also their rights and opportunities as people and citizens.

“It is wrong to frame this debate between people from a business point of view who are putting the economy first versus others who are putting the constitution first.

“The constitution is not an issue in this debate, it is a complete and utter red herring.

“The economy is 100% of what this debate is about and we have to follow the evidence and follow those who are experts in terms of creating and maintaining jobs in this society.”

Green Party leader Clare Bailey added: “crashing out of Brexit with no deal is not an option for Northern Ireland, it is an absolute disaster and must be avoided at all costs.”

Northern Ireland business leaders later met with members of the Democratic Unionists in a separate meeting.

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