Saturday 10 December 2016

McGuinness refuses to rule out SF taking Westminster seats to vote against Brexit

Arj Singh

Published 05/11/2016 | 02:30

The north's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness Photo: PA News
The north's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness Photo: PA News

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness refused to rule out the possibility of Sinn Féin taking up its seats in Westminster for the first time in order to block Brexit.

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Sinn Féin has a long-held policy of not taking up seats in Westminster. The party contests Westminster elections, but does not sit in parliament.

Mr McGuinness's stance came just a day after party leader Gerry Adams said that the party would not change its traditional abstentionist stance to exploit a Brexit vote opportunity.

"No, and you knew the answer to that before you asked me," the Sinn Féin president said when asked.

Following the British High Court ruling that MPs must approve plans to trigger Article 50 and instigate Brexit, Mr McGuinness declined to say if his party would oppose it.

But yesterday the Deputy First Minister declined to rule out the party's MPs attending Westminster to vote against Brexit.

He told a Stormont press conference: "Who knows where all of this is going to end up? There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all of us face immense challenges that lie ahead.

"But one thing is for sure and that is I have no faith in the British parliament supporting the democratically expressed wishes of the people of the North to remain in Europe."

However, the party later issued a statement, denying its long-held policy towards Westminster would change.

"Sinn Féin MPs will not be taking their seats at Westminster as they stood on an abstentionist platform and are therefore mandated not to attend," the party said. "We have no intention of reviewing that position."

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May was rocked by the resignation of a pro-Brexit Conservative MP over "irreconcilable policy differences".

Stephen Phillips announced he was quitting shortly after Ms May called European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stress her Brexit timetable remained unchanged - despite the High Court ruling that threatened to throw her plans into turmoil.

Emergency

The judges' decision that Ms May must get parliamentary approval before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally launch Brexit, which she has promised to do by April, prompted calls for an emergency general election to settle the question.

Mr Phillips's resignation as MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham appeared to heap yet more pressure on the PM, although a Downing Street source insisted Ms May stood by her statement that there should not be a general election before 2020.

The source also revealed that Mr Phillips did not speak to Ms May before his surprise resignation.

Mr Phillips's resignation leaves the Tories facing a second by-election, following Zac Goldsmith's decision to quit over Heathrow expansion, and further diminishes Ms May's already slim Commons majority - making the process of passing Brexit even harder.

The Liberal Democrats have tried to make the contest in Mr Goldsmith's Richmond Park seat a referendum on Brexit.

Mr Phillips, who backed Leave in the June 23 referendum, has previously warned against the "tyranny" of denying MPs a vote on the Government's stance in forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

As he announced his resignation, Downing Street was briefing details on Ms May's talks with Mr Juncker and Ms Merkel, and her reaction to the High Court ruling. A No 10 spokesman said the government did not accept the court's judgment and was "confident" of victory in an appeal.

Irish Independent

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