December 2, 2019 12:58:41 PM
Brexit must be reconsidered after voters were promised a “unicorn” and are now being offered a “lame donkey”, the Alliance Party leader has said.
Naomi Long also insisted that Northern Ireland works better in the European Union.
“Brexit must be reconsidered, it has drifted so far from what was promised to the electorate in the 2016 campaign,” she told business leaders in Belfast.
“People were promised unicorn Brexit, they’re now being offered lame donkey Brexit, I think it’s reasonable to check if there is any buyers’ remorse.
“We want a people’s vote to reconsider Brexit with an option to remain in the EU. Failing that, we want the whole of the UK to remain in the single market and customs union, and failing that we want a special deal that helps the Northern Ireland economy and defends the Good Friday Agreement.”
The Alliance leader also criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit deal as “more challenging for Northern Ireland than Theresa May’s”.
“If Brexit proceeds then we will not only be facing up to all of the consequences of that but to a decade of ongoing Brexit future relationship negotiations,” she said.
“The only way to truly end the uncertainty is to stop Brexit.”
She added: “While the EU may have fallen a little as a proportion of UK trade, it remains by far the most important market and represents the deepest level of economic integration in the world. This is what the UK is turning its back on in a no-deal scenario.”
Ms Long also called for more investment in green energy and public transport, including the creation of a high speed increased frequency Londonderry – Belfast – Dublin rail link.
Turning to devolved government in Northern Ireland, which has been collapsed for almost three years, Ms Long warned time is running out for a deal to be agreed before January 13 when fresh Assembly elections will be called.
Fresh talks are due to start on December 16 following the General Election.
“This election has not been a good precursor to talks, the negative campaigning and the tone of this campaign, I think, has been profoundly damaging to political relationships,” she said.
The Alliance leader said if the return of Stormont cannot be agreed then alternatives must be considered.
“I fundamentally believe that devolution is better than direct rule, but after January 13 this has to stop one way or the other,” she said.
“We either have an election and elect different people with the prospect of getting a new Assembly restored, and that’s out of our hands, or we find some other mechanism of governing Northern Ireland that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement but not reliant on local parties being able to lead the way on that.
“I don’t believe the current drift is sustainable.”
Ms Long said “despite Brexit and wider economic challenges”, her message on the economy is “ultimately one of hope and optimism”.
She said her party wants to “transform Northern Ireland into one of the most innovative and dynamic regional economies in Europe”, pointing to the existing business base, well-educated population, strong manufacturing base, research attributes, telecommunications networks and strong international links.
Ms Long is the latest political leader to address General Election hustings organised by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The latest in the 5 Leaders 5 Days series was hosted by KPMG in Belfast.
Chamber president John Healy said business confidence is declining.
“Our members are keen to understand the economic and job creation policies of the five main political parties as we draw closer to the December 12 elections,” he said.
“We want to keep the economy right at the heart of the political agenda.”