Martin McGuinness ‘refuses to rule out Sinn Fein taking Westminster seats for first time to block Brexit’

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA

Siobhan Fenton ©

Martin McGuinness has refused to rule out whether his party will reverse its abstentionist policy in order for its MPs to vote against Article 50 in Westminster, it has been reported.

Following yesterday’s High Court ruling that MPs must approve plans to trigger Article 50 and instigate Brexit, the Sinn Fein politician reportedly refused to say if his party would oppose it. Despite having four MPs, the Irish republican party has a long-held policy of not taking up seats in Westminster, as it does not acknowledge the sovereignty of the Queen. Therefore, the party runs for Westminster seats, but does not does not sit in Parliament or vote on bills.

The Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness declined to rule out the party’s MPs attending Westminster to vote against it, telling 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.

“That is our position and it is a very clear position. We will all obviously have to await the outcome of what happens in the time ahead and deal with that and that’s precisely what we will do.”

Asked whether his party would change its absentionism policy in order for its four MPs to vote, Mr Guinness reportedly said: "We are opposed to Brexit and we believe that any decision taken about the future of the people of this island and of course Brexit will have a massive impact on every one of Ireland's 32 counties."

Then approached a spokesperson for Mr McGuinness was not immediately available for comment.

A spokesperson for Sinn Fein denied the party’s stance on Westminster had or would change, telling The Independent: “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. We have no intention of reviewing that position.”

Sinn Fein was vehemently opposed to Brexit and called for a Remain vote. The party cited concerns about how Brexit could impact on relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As the two regions share a land border, concerns have been raised about how they will be affected by EU withdrawal.

In particular, it is unknown if a physical border will have to be put in place between the north and south of the island, or whether Northern Ireland will lose EU funding for post-peace process projects between nationalist and unionist communities.

The SDLP has said its three MPs will vote against triggering Article 50, with party leader Colum Eastwood saying: “The people of Northern Ireland have not consented to leaving the European Union and we will not betray them by standing idly by.”

A spokesperson for the Ulster Unionist Party said that their two MPs will vote to trigger Article 50, if a bill comes to Parliament. The Democratic Unionist Party campaigned for a leave vote and its eight MPs are expected to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.