N. Ireland Politics

Brexit: Mixed reaction to White Paper from NI politicians

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The government's published its Brexit plan a day after MPs voted to back the European Union Bill

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have criticised the government's plan for Brexit, but a White Paper published on Thursday has been welcomed by unionists.

The document presents the government's 12 "principles", which were recently laid out by Prime Minister Theresa May in a key speech in London.

Brexit Secretary David Davis unveiled the plan to the House of Commons.

It focuses on a series of themes, including trade, immigration, devolution and the Irish border.

DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds said the "central stress" of the plan was the opportunity the UK's withdrawal from the EU offers to "strengthen the union".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Irish border was among several issues touched on in the government's White Paper on Brexit

"This is why the DUP supported Brexit, and this is precisely what Brexit lets the UK do," he added.

"I am glad that the government took the time to restate the obvious - that Brexit would have no impact on the Common Travel Area, or the unique relationship between British and Irish citizens.

"This long predated EU membership and will happily outlast it."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The DUP's Nigel Dodds said Brexit would strengthen the United Kingdom

However, the White Paper received a less favourable reaction from Sinn Féin, which campaigned for the UK to remain inside the EU.

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Féin's leader north of the border, said the government is "acting in its own self-interest".

"It's clear the only credible approach is for the north to be designated a special status within, rather than outside of, the EU," she said.

The SDLP's Mark Durkan was also heavily critical of what he saw in it, saying it was "padded out with platitudes" and there was "not a lot of solid content".

The Foyle MP added that the government was going in the wrong direction and had set a route to Brexit with "no sat-nav, map or compass".

Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP want Northern Ireland to have special status after Brexit, but such a move has been ruled out by Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who believes it is the "wrong approach".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said the government is "acting in its own self-interest"

The Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan welcomed the publication of the White Paper, saying that "clarity" is what constituents and businesses "deserve in order to best plan for the future".

He added: "Now that we know the government's intentions, we will work tirelessly to hold them to their commitment to ensure a frictionless border, protect the rights of UK citizens in EU member states and secure the best trade deal possible for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK."

MPs backed the European Union Bill by 498 votes to 114 on Wednesday evening after two days of debate.

The DUP and the Ulster Unionists supported the bill, while the SDLP and independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon voted against it.

MPs will discuss the bill in more detail next week, when it reaches the committee stage in the Commons, and the Labour Party has vowed to force through amendments.

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