European Election 2019: Brexit dominates NI TV debate

Spotlight election debate

Six candidates in this week's European parliamentary election in Northern Ireland have clashed over Brexit, the Irish border backstop and whether there should be another referendum.

They were appearing on a special BBC Spotlight debate on Tuesday night.

The three unionist candidates were united in their desire to leave the European Union.

The nationalist parties and the Alliance Party united in their desire to remain.

The Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) Diane Dodds said she wants the UK to deliver on the 2016 Brexit vote as soon as possible.

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister agreed, saying the UK needs to "get on with getting out".

The Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy said that he stands for a "sensible Brexit" that can provide stability.

But Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson claimed that Brexit "damages all of us".

Colum Eastwood, the leader of the SDLP, said he wants to stop Brexit happening and believes there is only a 50/50 chance the UK will leave.

The Alliance Party leader Naomi Long rejected the notion that there can be a sensible Brexit and spoke strongly in favour of another referendum.

Mrs Dodds described Theresa May's latest offer regarding her Withdrawal Agreement Bill as the last gasp of a prime minister going out of the door of Downing Street.

Mr Allister claimed the intention of the stop was to create constitutional and economic mayhem within the UK by putting a border down the Irish Sea.

Mr Kennedy claimed that a parliamentary amendment that advocates alternative arrangements to the backstop remains the best way forward.

That was rejected by Mrs Long, who maintaining that the so-called Brady Amendment would lead to a no-deal Brexit.

Ms Anderson said the backstop still allowed local businesses unfettered access to both Great Britain and the EU, arguing that it would only keep "contaminated produce" from crossing the Irish Sea from Britain.

Mr Eastwood expressed the view that a change of prime minister would not resolve anything so far as Brexit was concerned but instead there needs to be a change of attitude on the part of the government.

Differences were also expressed over the importance of EU funding, the prospect of an Irish border poll and how divisions get be healed in the future.

Some audience members reacted angrily when Ms Anderson suggested she was the only one in the European Parliament representing unionists who had wanted to remain.

Ms Anderson accused Mr Allister of trying to bully her when he repeatedly raised her previous IRA membership.

Besides the six candidates who appeared in the Spotlight debate, five others are standing in Northern Ireland for the European Parliament.

They are UKIP's Robert Hill, the Green Party leader Clare Bailey, the Conservative Amandeep Singh Bhogal and two independents, Jane Morrice and Neil McCann.

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