UK Customs Union membership could hinge on SF support

Issued 25 February 2018

As the UK Labour Party prepares to commit to continued participation in a customs union with the EU, Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin has highlighted that the vote in Westminister could hinge on the absent votes of Sinn Féin MPs that could determine our island's future, and called on them to use their vote.

Deputy Howlin said:

"The confirmation that the British Labour Party will support amendments tabled by Tory Brexit dissenters mandating the UK Government to negotiate a customs union with the EU is a potential game changer for Ireland.

"There is now a real possibility that the Brexit Government could be defeated on this issue.

"The outcome of the historic vote could hinge on votes of currently absent Sinn Féin MPs. It is now time for Sinn Fein to step up to the plate and defend the interests of the island of Ireland. It has 6 sitting MPs that could potentially make a critical difference in this vote.

"One respected British commentator this morning indicated that only as few as 7 Tory defecters would be required to support the amendment tabled by Anna Soubry.

"I have long since come round to the view that protecting Irish interests in this matter requires support for those in the UK who realise the potential of a hard Brexit to do harm to both Ireland and the UK. The grandstanding around the December confirmation of the EU position was at best only half the picture.

"A vote for a customs union is a vote not just for the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement but would also protect the economic interests of the entire island of Ireland.

"It is imperative that every opportunity is taken to maximise the opportunity of these amendments succeeding.

"Mary Lou McDonald has taken over as the new leader of Sinn Fein and is faced with a difficult and historic decision. To allow this critical vote to take place without Ireland’s voice being heard would be an abdication of political responsibility.

"But to make this step now would be a sign of Sinn Fein’s willingness to act in the overall national interest despite a clear inconvenience to itself. Even the British Government is aware of Sinn Fein’s opportunity in this regard.

"I understand the significance of the principle of historical absenteeism not just to Sinn Fein but to all parties on this island. But I know too that previous generations of republicans have supported parliamentary action in the House of Commons when they believed it to be in the interest – the New Departure is the obvious case in point.

"Tomorrow Jeremy Corbyn is expected to further confirm the shift in the position of the British Labour Party. The majority of its members want not just customs union membership but single market membership. A change of Government in the UK would be a critical step towards an economically sensible British negotiating position.

"Sinn Féin have an opportunity to assist this process. While it I understand it is difficult, it is an opportunity that cannot be missed. The people of Ireland, north and south, have been denied a voice in this critical debate for too long."