EU Special Status for Northern Ireland

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:30 pm on 17th October 2016.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 12:30 pm, 17th October 2016

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Before we begin, I advise Members of the need to take care in their contributions today. I am sure that you are all aware that there are active legal proceedings on certain matters related to the EU referendum result. I do not want to inhibit discussion on the motion, which clearly relates to a matter of public interest, but in accordance with my responsibilities under Standing Order 73, I caution Members to be particularly careful that they say nothing in their contributions that might prejudice the outcome of those proceedings. Members who deliberately flout the sub judice rule will be asked to resume their seats.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will try my best to take your advice, Mr Speaker. Feel free — I am sure that you will — to pull me up if I do not.

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the current public concern arising from the European Union referendum vote; endorses the proposal of the Irish Government and others that there should be legal recognition of the unique status of Northern Ireland and the circumstances on the island as part of the arrangements to leave the European Union; believes that this is one mechanism that can safeguard the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, including future access to European Union funding opportunities; and calls on the British Government to fully endorse, and to negotiate for, this outcome in discussions on leaving the European Union.

Brexit is the biggest issue that has faced the Assembly and this part of the world for a long time. I believe that it will affect this island and these islands more than any other issue and, unfortunately, in a very negative way. We tried to make the arguments during the referendum campaign. Some were, unfortunately, not prepared to listen, but 56% of people in the North of Ireland did listen and supported the European Union and our membership of it. It is unfortunate that some could not hear what our electorate said.

We have tabled this motion to try to inject some urgency into the Assembly and, hopefully, into the Executive. It is not good enough to protest passionately on the streets while sitting quietly in the Executive. It is not good enough to tell us that there will be tremendous opportunities from Brexit without actually telling us what they might be. It is definitely not good enough to send a letter to the British Prime Minister in August and then patiently wait for a reply; I do not think that we have got one yet. We should be kicking the British Prime Minister's door in to ensure that the interests of the people of Northern Ireland are protected. I do not hear anything coming from the British Government that would give us any confidence that people here are at the top of their agenda.

We said, after the referendum result, that we would use any legal, parliamentary and diplomatic options that we had to try to protect the will of the people here. You have already referred to the court case; I will leave that with the judge. We have also been hard at work using our contacts in the Party of European Socialists, our sister parties right across Europe, to try to make sure that the issues of the North of Ireland are front and centre, because we have no confidence that anybody else is doing that.

We have heard the words coming out of the Tory party conference, and I do not think that any of us are filled with confidence that a success will be made of this. It is very interesting to note — I do not know how many times I and others have asked him — that our Economy Minister cannot tell us what way he voted in the referendum. I think that he should just be honest because he is with the 56% who voted to remain in the European Union. It would fit him a lot better to tell us that once and for all.

It says something that the Economy Minister understands that we are better off in Europe. I just wonder what happened to the rest of his party.

The British Treasury, which is beginning to implement Brexit, has told us that a hard Brexit will cost the British Exchequer between £38 billion and £66 billion a year. What will that mean for Barnett consequentials and the Executive's already tightened and straitened financial opportunities? What will that mean for us when it happens? People need to understand that, no matter how many glasses of champagne are poured, the British Tory party has no interest and does not care one jot for people in Northern Ireland. I am surprised that people have not learnt that lesson.

Since this happened, we have made it clear that our job here is to stand with the people who voted to remain in the European Union. Our job here is to protect their interests, not the interests of people anywhere else, not the interests of people on a different island or in a different jurisdiction. Our job is to protect people here. That is why we have to ensure that we maintain the four freedoms on the island of Ireland. That is why we have to ensure that our people have the right to move freely around this island and around the European Union. That is why we have to ensure that our businesses can trade freely without tariffs, borders or any impediments to business and growth around this island and the European Union.

That is why we clearly believe that, whilst the new mantra of the British Government is "We will not return to the borders of the past" — I think that that is the line that they keep trotting out — we need to ensure that we explain to people what that actually means. People who argued for Brexit need to be more honest about what that means. If we are not to have a border like we had in the past and if we are not going to control our border at Bridgend, Newry or anywhere across this island, where will we control it? My strong belief is that the only practical place and the best place to control the border into Britain is at Stansted Airport, Heathrow Airport or any port that you want to name, because it will not be possible to do it here. We should not tell the —

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Is that not precisely the outcome that would flow if the Member had his way? He is insisting on this special status, which, effectively, would keep Northern Ireland within the EU, and the border, in consequence of that, would be moved to Stranraer. I can understand that, as a nationalist, that is his goal, but is that not really the underlying thrust of why the Member is so anxious to keep Northern Ireland in the EU: he knows that that moves the border to Stranraer, whereas this United Kingdom has voted to leave, and this United Kingdom, when it leaves, will have its single land border with the Irish Republic?

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank Mr Allister for his intervention. As usual, he always hears what you are saying. He listens very carefully, and he has picked it up. It is unfortunate that those who, like him and others in the Chamber, argued for Brexit could not see this coming before the referendum result. He is absolutely right. If our job is to protect people here, we have to protect their ability to move and do business around the island and into the European Union. That should not be negotiable by anybody. Confusion reigns across the Chamber. Some of the DUP spokespersons seem to be saying exactly the same thing as we are saying: no return to the borders of the past; no hard borders; we need to maintain the special relationships across these islands; and all these things.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

No. You have had your chance, Mr Allister. The Member is absolutely right: the border will have to be moved to the island of Britain. I did not vote for tighter controls on immigration. Those who did and those who argued for it can have their border if they want, but it will be down the middle of the Irish Sea. That is the realisation that people need to come to very quickly.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

It is the Member who wants the border down the middle of the Irish Sea. There will be what is called a "hard border" only if the EU wants a hard border. Otherwise, the UK wants no tariffs. If the EU wants tariffs, there will be a customs border. There will be a passport border only if the Republic of Ireland opts out of the common travel area and joins the Schengen Agreement. All of that would be at the behest of the EU and one of its member states, not at the behest of those who voted to free us from the EU.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

This, again, is from the political school of, "Let's have our cake and eat it". The Brexiteers were told over and over again that, if they wanted to control immigration, they would have to have controls on the freedom to do business around and into the European Union. You cannot have it both ways. I do not know how many times people need to be told. They are being told by everybody in a senior position, including Donald Tusk, in the European Union.

The Irish Government have done a good thing in proposing the conversation around this and all the issues associated with it. I appeal once more to political unionism to get involved in that conversation. There is no trapdoor here to Irish unity; this is about getting people together and working to defend the interests of the people who voted here. We do that every day in London as Irish nationalists. There is nothing to stop political unionism doing it in Dublin as part of this conversation.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I ask the Member to conclude.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

No, you do not get an extra minute.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Given the contribution that we have just heard, I am almost tempted to open by asking, "What is the point in having cake if you cannot eat it?".

I feel that I need to reiterate some basics. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. Every party represented in the Chamber accepts that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. The people of the United Kingdom as a whole were afforded the opportunity to have their say on this country's continuing membership of the European Union. From John o'Groats to Land's End, from Newry to Strabane and from London to Londonderry, every corner of the United Kingdom and every citizen had the opportunity to cast their ballot and have their say on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

The Member's motion talks about "public concern", and I accept that there is public concern. I also accept, however, that we have just come out of the biggest democratic exercise conducted in this country since the 1975 referendum that affirmed our position in Europe.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Member for giving way. He pointed out the UK-wide nature of the referendum. Does he not see the irony in that many who voted to get out did so on the message of "Take back control"? If every person in Northern Ireland had voted to remain, we would still have been taken out of Europe. What does "control" mean for the people of Northern Ireland whom he should be representing?

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I do represent them. Every person in Northern Ireland had the same opportunity. I think particularly of constituencies like East Belfast, North Antrim, South Antrim and East Antrim. Perhaps the Member thinks that, in order to represent those areas, we should draw the border there as regards the European Union. Maybe County Antrim should stay part of the United Kingdom and the rest should stay in the European Union. That is the logic of saying that we should divide the country into certain areas. Maybe we should carve off the eastern quarter of Belfast: it should stay out of the European Union, and the other three quarters should stay in. That is the logic of those who seek to divide us. Where does it end? Does London secede from the Union too? That is the logic of our friends who cannot accept the democratic will of the people in action.

The reaction of those on the "Remain" side during the referendum has varied. There are people, like our colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party, who accept the outcome. I appreciate that they campaigned — at least, the leadership did, if not the members — for a different position, but they have accepted the outcome and are committed to ensuring the best deal for the United Kingdom.

I think that is what people expect.

In the time since the referendum, we have had demands for a second referendum that have slowly been watered down and dropped. We have had suggestions that the result can simply be ignored, and, gradually, people have come to realise that that is not viable either. Then we had the idea that — our friends in the SDLP were particularly strong on this point — Nicola Sturgeon was going to be the saviour of EU membership. They cling to Nicola Sturgeon. A Celtic alliance will be formed to keep us in the EU. The bold claims that she was making immediately after the referendum have slowly but surely been watered away to the point where, now, the Scottish First Minister tells us that the single market is the big issue and Scotland has to stay in it. The single market has become the last redoubt of the "Remain" campaign. Over time, we have seen that even some of the most vociferous "Remainers" have come to accept the outcome. I urge all parties to adopt that approach.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. For those who seek to have Northern Ireland and Scotland annexed from the agreement, when the United Kingdom voted as one to leave the European Union, how do you believe that the Spanish Prime Minister might react if the Basque region or the Catalonian region wanted to leave the European Union? How would Europe react to that?

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I can see why our friends across the way would perhaps agree with that position, given their historical support for the Basque region, but I do not think it is one that, as you say, will go down terribly well in Madrid. We need to be realistic —

A Member:

Or Brussels.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Or Brussels, indeed.

We need to be realistic. The decision has been taken, and it is now our job to implement it. I welcome the fact —

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The Member chunters away from a sedentary position.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

No, you are quite all right. You had your chance.

The Member chunters away from a sedentary position, and that is precisely the type of thing that puts people off. It puts people off that a party that has the word "democratic" in its title is not prepared to accept the democratic outcome of the referendum, in which all citizens had their say. I will say briefly that running off to the courts does not strengthen your case for being a democrat.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I ask Members not to speak from a sedentary position.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

This is our now weekly debate on Brexit. It would be useful if we debated the motion before us rather than its generalities. I am disappointed that, during his 10-minute contribution, Mr Eastwood did not inform the House what the special status was that the Irish Government were proposing. He used very strong language:

"We should be kicking the British Prime Minister's door in".

I do not think I will be arrested for having information useful to terrorists if I reveal that the British Prime Minister lives at 10 Downing Street and the postcode is SW1A 2AA. If Mr Eastwood wants to go and kick her door in, go and kick it in. We have to caution about the language we use, because I often find that those who call for doors to be kicked in are not the ones who do the kicking. It is other people who have their door kicked in at dawn and are brought away for questioning rather than those who use the strong language that Mr Eastwood used today.

(Madam Principal Deputy Speaker [Ms Ruane] in the Chair)

Mr Eastwood predictably attacked the Executive because we have a different position from the DUP and vice versa. Imagine this scenario: would we be in a much stronger position if the SDLP had joined the Executive and two of the three Executive parties were opposed to Brexit? Our voice would be much stronger. It would be much stronger not only on these islands but across —

[Interruption.]

A Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle, it is very difficult when —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member must be heard. There are a lot of loud noises, and I would like it if the Member is listened to.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Across these islands, our voice would be much stronger if two of the three parties in the Executive were opposed to Brexit.

But let us return to the motion. With regard to special status, I go back to the very strong words of the SDLP leader. I suspect that, in there somewhere, the Irish Government and the SDLP are moving away from the position that "Remain" must mean "Remain". Fifty-six per cent of the people did not vote for special status; they voted to remain in the European Union. If Mr Eastwood is going to back up his statement by saying that they have not moved away from that position, that they continue to lobby the Irish Government, that they continue to lobby all their friends in Europe and elsewhere and that, when he kicks in Theresa May's front door, he will say to her, "Remain means Remain", that will be an important statement.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Has the Member read Martin McGuinness's article in 'The Guardian', which was published last night and referred to special status for Northern Ireland? Has his party moved away from the position that "Remain means Remain"?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I know Martin McGuinness's position on this: Martin McGuinness's position on special status is that it means that the North of Ireland should remain in the European Union. You did not take the opportunity to state whether the SDLP's position remains that the "Remain" vote should be respected.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

No, I have given way enough.

As to where we go next on this, despite differences of opinion with the SDLP and their presentation today, we agree: the fact that 56% of people in the North voted to remain in the European Union has to be respected. What we are looking at in the future is a disaster. Why? Because despite what the most avid Brexiteer in the room or elsewhere says, nobody can tell us what Brexit means. The British Government cannot tell us and — talk about disagreements in the Executive — there is disagreement in the Cabinet about what Brexit means. We had reports over the weekend that the Chancellor was now calling for careful thinking about curbs on immigration. Why would a Chancellor come out with something like that? Because the Chancellor recognises that immigration is healthy for the economy. He realises that the workers who are coming in to what is known as the UK bolster the economy of what is known as the UK.

We also learned over the weekend, through various polls, that one of the concerns of those who voted for Brexit — there were many reasons why people voted for Brexit — was immigration and the belief that it was damaging public services. What was the reality of that situation? It is not immigration that was damaging public services; it was austerity. The cuts to the health service and the cuts to services across these islands were damaging public services, and that is beginning to dawn on people.

Mr Stalford gave a very good reason why partition does not work — in a different context, perhaps, than I would. However, he also asked if we were going to partition off Antrim.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Partition off Upper Bann: some might want to do that and not let me out of it. Let us look at what the British Government are thinking of doing. They are thinking of partitioning off Nissan. They are looking at big car manufacturers and saying, "Yes, we will give you special status. We will allow Nissan to rest within the EU" —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

When I read this comment, I thought that it was a joke: the British Government propose to fund Nissan to promote driverless cars. How apt: the British Government are driverless on Brexit.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

Whilst I share my opposition colleagues' frustration at the lack of action and leadership from the Executive on Brexit, I believe that neither High Court actions nor the development of a special legal status for Northern Ireland is the best way forward.

The Ulster Unionist Party, as has already been mentioned, campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, but, as Mr Stalford said, that was not the unanimous view of our members; we allowed our members to vote with their conscience, as we do on a number of key issues. We do democracy, even if some parties in the Assembly do not. In our opinion, the result of the referendum is the result. While the majority in Northern Ireland supported "Remain", it was a national poll, and that decision must be respected. We based our decision to support the "Remain" campaign on three key issues: the economy, the UK's constitutional future and the contentment of the majority of people in Northern Ireland with Northern Ireland.

First, the economy. The impact of Brexit on our local economy will be immense if we do not get this right, and not in a good way. While we do have some great companies who sell goods and services to the world, our economy is primarily an inter-UK economy, with most of our exports going to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU. The two competing fantasies that, on the one hand, we can place barriers between ourselves and the rest of the UK, which provides us with the lion's share of our trade as well as our £9·8 billion subvention, or alternatively we can become buccaneer traders with the world on WTO tariffs, are both at odds with reality.

Secondly, we feared that significant change to the UK constitution could destabilise the post-Scottish independence referendum settlement. With Brent crude at $51 per barrel I suspect that the SNP will not proceed with the second referendum, but if it does I trust a pro-union majority will prevail once again. However, as forecast, the Brexit decision has let this genie out of the bottle once again, with all the potential for destabilising Northern Ireland politically, socially and economically. While some may welcome that outcome, I do not.

Thirdly, all evidence shows that the vast majority, from all communities, were content with Northern Ireland and the status quo. OK, everyone has their issues, their gripes and their agenda for change, but it was all within the current Belfast Agreement settlement. As even today's debate shows, the EU referendum has the potential to change that, with many from a traditionally nationalist community feeling unsettled and angry at the referendum result.

My party has, uniquely, produced an initial post-Brexit analysis, vision and plan. The Executive, to date, have produced a letter. I sincerely hope that more is happening behind the scenes, but experience to date makes me fearful.

Everyone now accepts that Northern Ireland is the region in the UK most impacted by Brexit. We also appear to be the least prepared. We are in a unique situation, which is why it is doubly frustrating that our divided Executive appear to be paralysed by this issue, like a rabbit transfixed by the headlights of an oncoming truck.

There is much in the motion that I can support. Our Government must ensure that, whatever Brexit becomes, we continue to have single market access, that there is no change to the existing Irish border arrangements, that our agri-food industry is sustained and that current EU funding is at least replaced like for like. I agree with much of the motion's sentiment and many of its goals.

However, I believe that there are better ways to achieve similar outcomes. We require a clear voice for Northern Ireland at the UK's negotiating table, as opposed to trying to create barriers between ourselves and the rest of the UK. By all means —

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. He talks about a divided Executive, and we all know what a divided Opposition looks like. Does he not realise that, whilst we come from different, opposing positions, when it comes to knowing what is good or bad for Northern Ireland in the Brexit context, we will know that, we will agree to it and we will fight for Northern Ireland?

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

I appreciate what the Member has said and I look forward to seeing whatever that is. The difficulty at the moment is that we have seen absolutely nothing, and that is the challenge. Until the Executive come out with their plans, proposals and solutions, we are all working in the dark. I look forward to when the Executive produce that information.

By all means, we will work with our neighbours across the border to hopefully achieve a win-win solution, but that does not require a constitutionally questionable legal recognition. What is critical is that the Executive get over their policy stalemate and produce a plan. I look forward to seeing this plan and negotiation strategy to ensure that Northern Ireland is not destabilised economically and politically by Brexit. We need both action and leadership from the Executive, and to date we have had neither.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

Last week the Assembly backed an Alliance amendment which recognised the importance of continued participation in the EU single market. To make it clear to Mr Frew, and to put it on record, the DUP and Sinn Féin do not agree on whether or not Northern Ireland should continue to be part of the single market.

This motion allows us to move to the next step in beginning to scope out the political arrangements that give effect to addressing the particular challenges facing Northern Ireland. While the UK has voted to leave the European Union, what Brexit entails continues to mean different things for different people, and the referendum result does nothing to assist in this regard.

Over the past few weeks the UK Government have signalled a greater likelihood of a hard Brexit. In parallel, the devastating implications for the future prosperity of the UK, and especially to this region, are becoming ever clearer. The Northern Ireland perspective continues to be marginalised, most recently shown by our Secretary of State not being part of the Cabinet Committee on Brexit.

"Leave" advocates somehow suggest that there is a choice between trading with the rest of the world and trading with the EU. We can and should do both, and it is through the single market that we can best open up new trading opportunities. By contrast, the risk of erecting barriers to what remains by far our largest external market is an act of supreme folly. Northern Ireland is a distinct political entity, with the right to determine its own political future recognised in international law. This region did very clearly vote to remain.

Overall, Brexit is a bad thing. Everyone across the UK is set to suffer some degree of consequence from this vote. The harder the Brexit, the deeper the consequences will be. By contrast, a very soft Brexit could avoid some of the wider economic and political challenges facing the UK and, indeed, Northern Ireland.

This region is particularly vulnerable, and I want to cite four areas. The first is financial support from EU funds. We achieve more per head from these than we would through any Barnett consequentials, assuming that they were available. This is particularly so in terms of agricultural support.

Secondly, our economy has been improving in recent years but has still to truly lift off. We had hoped to have a step change in our inward investment profile, but this was clearly linked to unfettered access to the single market. I want to stress that the European Union is not really about handouts but allowing us to compete on our own two feet through having access to those markets.

Thirdly, we have greater uncertainty over potential borders to people or goods being erected somewhere in these islands.

Finally, we are concerned about the implications for the Good Friday Agreement. This was a finely balanced settlement with three strands and has facilitated a shared space for open, mixed and multiple identities. When lines are drawn or redrawn on maps or barriers are erected between people, it is not good.

This builds the case for exploring some form of special status for Northern Ireland. For some, this talk of special status may be viewed as the counterpoint to Northern Ireland just being treated as an integral part of the UK and the UK as a whole leaving the European Union. However, in practice, the choice is between discussing and negotiating some form of special status or seeing Northern Ireland by default becoming some form of anomaly. Already, the people of Northern Ireland have the right to be Irish citizens and, therefore, EU citizens. Already, large parts of our economy such as agri-food are organised on a North/South basis. Apart from warm words, there is no clarity on how the interface between the UK and the EU and the movement of EU nationals plus goods and services will be managed. Also, we must protect the Good Friday Agreement.

At this stage, of course, there is no shared or common understanding of what is meant by special status or what it should look like. It could be something where Northern Ireland is an associate member of the European Union or we could be part of the European Union or we could be outside the European Union with a special set of arrangements. We are not expecting that type of answer to be provided today or in the coming days. However, over the coming months and, indeed, over the coming weeks, there is, nevertheless, an urgent necessity for all relevant stakeholders to come together to do just that. In that regard, the decision to have the forum in Dublin is, to our mind, particularly welcome and should not be seen as threatening.

I want to say a couple of things to make a slight qualification. As much as I do recognise and respect the right of nationalists to seek a united Ireland, this process of advocating special status for Northern Ireland must be based on pragmatism and separated from that wider aspiration.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Can the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I am also disappointed that there is no specific call for the Executive to show leadership around special status. That would greatly enhance the prospects of success. It is a travesty that no Ministers are here to respond to what is one of the most important issues facing Northern Ireland.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I welcome the opportunity to take part in today's debate. We are at the beginning of a long process of untangling our relationship with the EU. Just as in the breakdown of any relationship, there comes a point when squabbling is put aside and the parties move on, trying to achieve what is best as an all-round outcome.

Our First Minister and deputy First Minister have identified the key priorities in ensuring that Northern Ireland is in the best possible shape for triggering article 50 in March, confirmed by the Prime Minister during the recent Conservative Party conference, to 2020 and beyond. The Prime Minister has confirmed that Northern Ireland will be fully involved in the negotiation process, and I am pleased that she has given her commitment to ensuring that we remain economically competitive. We have ease of movement across the border with the Republic of Ireland, and our agri-food sector is protected.

We are in a unique position, given our land border with the Republic of Ireland, so it is vital that in any discussions we recognise the importance of freedom of movement of people and goods. Given the importance of tourism to our economy, not to mention our reliance on health and social care workers from across the border, how we deal with the border issue is significant and may be one of the greatest challenges during the negotiations.

In contrast, the weakening value of sterling may have a positive effect on encouraging tourists, those from the Republic of Ireland or those visiting the South from overseas, to consider Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. I look forward to seeing the effects of the new Tourism NI advertising campaign and how the current greater value for money will impact on visitor numbers. During the last year, Northern Ireland's exports have increased by 9·5%, in the only part of the UK to see a rise. During our negotiations, we must build on that success and ensure that we capitalise on the reduced level of corporation tax to continue that growth. Given that we send more to the rest of the world than to the single market, the opportunities for growing the Northern Ireland economy are huge.

I understand that there are concerns amongst our many farmers about what will happen after 2020. Whilst the Treasury has committed to funding agriculture, fisheries and rural development, I appreciate that there may be some grey areas to be clarified following our exit from the EU.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP 1:15 pm, 17th October 2016

I thank the Member for giving way. We talk about uncertainties around what will happen to agriculture post Brexit, but does she agree that those uncertainties would exist for farmers whether we stayed in the EU or not, because of the way the funding is changing, with more of the payments moving towards eastern Europe? There will be uncertainty either way.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker. I thank the Member for his intervention and agree wholeheartedly with his comments.

I am, however, content that, given the reliance on the agri-food sector, we will arrive at a position that will protect our rural heritage and allow our farmers to continue unencumbered by European bureaucracy.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. Unfortunately, Mr Stalford has left the Chamber, but we should raise the issue that he mentioned. He said that the courts were not the most democratic way of taking this forward: I think that the courts are an extremely vital part of our democratic process. However, given that that is how he feels, it is unusual that his Minister took the previous ARD Minister, Michelle O'Neill, to court to prevent her from spending EU money in the way in which she saw fit in her Department. Given that, it is unusual that he does not think that the courts are a democratic way of dealing with things.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I thank the Member for the intervention, which was not really addressed to me at all; it was addressed to another Member.

The right decision has been made: leaving the European Union is the right decision for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. We should respect the democratic process that has delivered us to our current position. We will have the right to make our own laws and shape a future for the United Kingdom without the red tape of the European Union. I understand that we have some way to go in negotiating how that happens, but I trust that we will have a more efficient and competitive system in place once our exit is finalised.

At a recent Committee meeting, we heard a presentation from Professor David Phinnemore from Queen's University, who gave a brief overview of the possible outworkings of our exit and a number of potential scenarios. Those options have given us food for thought, and I am sure that they will be examined in greater detail in our discussions.

It is clear that special status for Northern Ireland is simply not required. The Prime Minister has plainly stated her assurance that the devolved Administrations will be fully involved and included in shaping the conditions of our exit from the European Union. On 23 June, the United Kingdom overwhelmingly voted to leave the European Union. The voter turnout of almost 72% is practically unheard of and one that we can only hope to replicate in future elections. The UK spoke loud and clear: we want to leave the European Union. To borrow Theresa May's term, "divisive nationalists" will not be permitted to destabilise the process of exit. We are the United Kingdom, and united we are greater than the sum of our parts. Leaving the EU will ensure that we take back control of our laws, our borders and how our money is spent. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, and that is a fact.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring her remarks to a close?

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

There will be no second referendum.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on what has clearly become one of the foremost topics in current politics. The pros and cons of leaving the EU and the implications for all sections of society here have been debated and discussed at length. Undoubtedly though, since the vote, the realisation has hit businesses, academics, the community and voluntary organisations and others of the need to focus on alternatives and plan contingencies. All those groups have pointed out the black holes that will exist in their budget as a result of the loss of EU funds. The implications for particular sectors, including the agri-food sector in terms of trade, have been discussed. The impact on our migrant workforce and the ability of universities to recruit and retain overseas staff and students are all things that we are very aware of. It is time to do more than discuss them.

In the months since the result, none of the above-mentioned groups or sectors has been shouting about the opportunities that have opened up for them; they are instead attempting to deal with the challenges that now exist. In the event of an actual exit and the freeing-up of some of the British Budget, the development of future funding streams to replace those lost will not be finalised for several years, and, in the meantime, all those groups and organisations face nothing but uncertainty.

We, in Sinn Féin, have been unambiguous before and since the referendum on our position: we believe that the best interests of the people of the North are served by remaining in the EU, a view clearly held by the majority here. We believe that the democratic will of the people here must be respected, and the High Court challenges are one strand of trying to achieve that. Since many now believe that there is not majority support in the British Tory party for the type of Brexit that currently seems to be the preferred option of those negotiating, it would seem that they are reluctant to allow their own democratic parliamentary processes to be actioned in case the result goes against them. We await the outcome of the legal challenge with interest.

Equally, though, it is important that other mechanisms that would allow for recognition of the unique status of the North continue to be explored. Any mechanism should allow for the North to remain part of the EU. We have very different circumstances — economically, socially and in terms of trade — from those anywhere else in England, Scotland or Wales.

I do not believe that the British Government understand or particularly care about the best interests and needs of people here. There is no permanent representative for the North or any of the devolved regions on the British Cabinet Committee on Brexit. They will be called as required, apparently. Half of that committee, which will have responsibility for the exit, is made up of so-called hard Brexiteers, including Liam Fox, David Davis and, of course, Boris Johnson. Added to the soundings that the British Government do not intend to remain within the single market and last week's comments from the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, regarding a hard Brexit or no Brexit, these are all signals that do not bode well. Any future trade arrangement other than continued single market access will take time to negotiate. It will involve further uncertainty, and there is no guarantee that the North and its unique circumstances will feature highly in the discussions. The new British Cabinet is increasingly insular and inward-looking, putting up barriers to the rest of the world in a time of increased globalisation; indeed, it seems intent on cutting off its proverbial nose to spite its face to prove that it meant what it said and is sticking to it guns, regardless of the consequences, with the hollow rhetoric of "Brexit means Brexit".

Alongside the consequences that are already beginning to unfold for business and trade is the somewhat ironic news that the plummeting post-referendum pound, which had initially been hailed as good for exports, is likely to see the British budgetary contribution to the EU for next year being up to £2 billion more than it was at the beginning of this year. I guess that was an unforeseen consequence, but it would seem that many of the consequences are exactly that. The British Government, meanwhile, seem to lurch from one idea to another and go further to the right by the day as they try to keep everyone on board.

It is clear that none of the ideas or proposals that are being put forward is good news for people here, nor, indeed, are they intended to be. It is, therefore, up to us as elected representatives here to stand up for the interests of the people of the North, our businesses, universities, young people and all those who have come from other countries to make their life here. In that regard, I welcome the setting-up of the all-island forum and statements by various parties, including those in the Irish Government and the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson, that call for a settlement that takes account of the circumstances on this island.

It would be good to hear some more reassuring soundings coming from the British Government in the same vein. The democratic will of the people here who voted to remain must be respected —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring her remarks to a close?

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

— and all mechanisms within that need to be considered.

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

I love taking the opportunity in the Chamber to discuss our exit from the European Union. We once had "Remainers" and "Leavers", and we once had a "Remain" campaign and a "Leave" campaign, but we all have one thing in common in the Chamber today, and that is that we are all leaving the European Union. We no longer have "Remainers", just a few "Remoaners". I would much rather the Opposition brought before us today a motion of substance that talks about the opportunities outside Europe, the trade deals and an outward-looking United Kingdom.

I stand, unsurprisingly, today to oppose the motion because it is premature. Why do we need special status? Of course, the negotiations have just begun, and we have a seat at the table with our eight MPs at Westminster, who actually take their seats. I oppose it, secondly, because it is a national matter. Yes, there are issues specific to Northern Ireland that need to be addressed. We do share a land border with an EU state, but Theresa May, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom — a nation made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland —

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thanks to the Member for giving way. I am glad he raised the point that we have a number of MPs who take their seats and will be in Westminster. Does he therefore support the call for the Westminster Parliament to be given a vote on what happens with article 50 and any subsequent potential deals? Is that what he is saying or are they just going to sit there and debate things but not actually get the opportunity to vote?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

Thank you. No. We got our answer on that. Theresa May has committed to triggering article 50 by March next year. That is what they are committed to doing, and we are absolutely supportive of that. You see, Theresa May is our Prime Minister. We are united with the United Kingdom, which has the fifth largest economy in the world. Perhaps —

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

It is now sixth.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Sixth, now that you voted for —

Some Members:

[Interruption.]

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

Yes, thank you very much. Sixth? Where is our recession, Steve?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will Members refrain from making comments from a sedentary position?

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

Yes. Perhaps Ireland, as the thirty-seventh — I hope I have that right — largest economy should be taking our lead on this one.

I oppose the motion as well because I believe in democracy. In June this year, people walked into a polling station and were given this question: should the United Kingdom leave the European Union or remain a member of it? I will not go any further on that; we are all aware of it. So it would be ridiculous of me to suggest that some constituencies in London that voted to remain should be given special circumstances, and the same should be said for here. Some constituencies voted to remain and, again, it would be ridiculous to suggest they should be given special circumstances. It was not done constituency by constituency or region by region; it was —

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am very grateful to the Member. Is he aware that the Lord Mayor of London has argued very much in the spirit of what you are saying, namely that London needs a seat at the table in the negotiations? Will it not be the case that, if there are any seats in the negotiations, London will be there much earlier than anybody from the North?

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

That is right. Everyone has a seat at the table with their MP, and they are very welcome to that discussion.

It was not done region by region or constituency by constituency; it was a United Kingdom vote. I respect democracy, and we in this party have shown that time and time again, although sometimes we maybe do not agree with it. I mean, I do not get too excited about doing business with Sinn Féin, but we respect the democratic will of the people of Northern Ireland and we get on with the business of doing what is right for Northern Ireland.

Finally, I oppose the motion because I believe we are better off outside the European Union. I do not want to be part of an organisation that penalises us, as the United Kingdom, for economic success, like we saw back in November 2014 when David Cameron was landed with a bill for £1·7 billion. By the way, France was given a reduction of £800 million and Germany was given a reduction of £600 million. We were landed with a bill for £1·7 billion as a result of our economic success. He said he would ask for a reduction in that, and he did not get it. He said he would ask for special terms, and he did not get them. That is what the vote was all about. It was about taking back control. It was about taking back control of our laws, because, remember, either you have control of them or you do not. Either you have control of immigration or you do not. Either you have control over finances or you do not. There is no happy medium with the European Union.

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

I have given away quite enough.

You have never heard me say in the Chamber that leaving is the easy option; I have never said that. It is a difficult option — of course it is — but we are up for that challenge. We acknowledge and recognise the options and the opportunities outside of Europe.

Had we remained — Mr Lyons made this point — there would have been uncertainty on many aspects. As well as that, when was the next bill or penalty going to come? This was a tough decision, but our eight MPs and a First Minister who is firmly at the table will be there to represent Northern Ireland and all our people here.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 1:30 pm, 17th October 2016

I will begin with a note of clarification for the record. My fellow MLA from South Antrim spoke about Northern Ireland's trade figures. Northern Ireland trades most with GB, secondly with the European Union and then globally. I think she indicated that we were trading mostly globally first. I just want to change that for the record.

The motion looks to provide a degree of clarity about how we in Northern Ireland can best position ourselves to prepare for the UK leaving the EU in 29 months' time. Regardless of your perspective on the referendum, that is an event that will have profound implications for everyone across these islands. We also believe that the Assembly should be asking the hard questions of our Government. What is the plan?

As a party, we released a discussion document on a vision for Northern Ireland outside the EU, based on Northern Ireland becoming a gateway to the EU. We have been particularly pleased to receive very favourable responses from across the political and business spectrum, in Northern Ireland and beyond, for our approach. In particular, noting in the motion the need for a unique status for Northern Ireland, we were intrigued to listen to the views of the DUP put forward by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as he put down his glass of champagne at the Tory party conference this year:

"We don't want to see a hard border. We don't think it's in the interest of either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland for that to happen so we will need to make a special case for the island of Ireland within both the European Union and of course within the wider world ... But we also need to ensure that special arrangements are put in place to ensure that we have free movement of goods on the island. That we have a market in the island that enables businesses to do what they do best, trade with each other without any inhibiting factor that is unnecessary."

I would welcome, as part of establishing a plan — any plan — the DUP taking these ideas, which Sir Jeffrey obviously took from our document, and incorporating them into our negotiating position with the Prime Minister.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I must say that I was very alarmed by what Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said. However, when I raised it with one of his senior colleagues, I got the rather withering response:

"Oh, Jeffrey. The less you know about a subject the more he is likely to say."

Is it not the reality that, if Mr Donaldson's advice was followed, like the SDLP advice, it would have the result of driving the border to Stranraer, whereas any border there is has to stay between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Is that not the folly of what Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was saying?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Thank you very much indeed.

The obvious question raised by both the DUP and this motion has to do with the form that these special arrangements will take. Do we, as in our vision document, look to create an agreed access to the single market based on our unique geography and economic circumstances, our specific needs for energy, agriculture, health and education, and a variety of other North/South and east-west dimensions?

We have also called for looking at making an all-Northern Ireland enterprise zone, which could have elements of free trade areas and agreements. Indeed, I am grateful for the Economy Minister pointing out the relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Singapore. We could look to the special trading areas in China and trading relationships with the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey et al, all of which employ a coordinated approach that would require an understanding, as outlined by Sir Jeffrey, with the Government of the Republic of Ireland

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

No, not just at the moment.

As well as building a strong relationship with our counterparts in Scotland and Wales. However, to address your question, we do not believe that that would require specific change in the legal status of Northern Ireland. We do not wish to see a border that goes down through the middle of the Isle of Man or the Irish Sea.

Indeed, in the Assembly, we should be able to debate and help inform these decisions. However, it seems that the openness and transparency agenda that the co-First Ministers and David Gordon seem to be following will mean that unfortunately, like Parliament, our options for influencing our Government will not be heard or, indeed, acted on for the good of all our people.

It is also disquieting to note that the avenue of influence to Downing Street is not through the Assembly and not even through our Government, as the Secretary of State has been assiduous in gathering his own information. It has become clear to major businesses and interest groups that the best way to get through to the Brexit Committee is through the NIO and the SpAds rather than the telephone calls — is it two? — that the First Ministers' offices have had with the Cabinet Office. Maybe Marlene does not even have a direct line.

We as a party have a well-established position on recognising the result of the EU referendum given by all the British people and the legal status of the United Kingdom. While we appreciate that other parties are seeking to change the result, we cannot support the motion. Therefore, despite supporting many of the issues, unfortunately we will not be able to support the motion.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next Member, I ask that all Members refer to other Members by their proper title.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the motion. Looking through the research papers and reading some commentary relating to the so-called Brexit and dealing with many of the stakeholders in society, it is becoming clear to me, and, indeed, to our party that we are on an enforced journey into economic and political chaos. It will have the biggest impact on vulnerable communities, such as hill farmers, small businesses, ethnic minorities and, indeed, the wider community sector.

The idea of the North being outside the EU trading block will leave us more peripheralised because we will end up being sandwiched between the South of Ireland, which is a fully fledged EU state, and Scotland, which has actually strengthened its ties with the EU and has triggered the Bill heading towards full independence. That will leave us on the very edge of Europe and more peripheralised than ever.

Along with others in the Chamber, I represent the border constituency of West Tyrone. Strabane and Castlederg are amongst the top economic black spots in the North — indeed, on these islands. Through the last 40 years, the border has softened by dint of the fact that we are jointly in the EU, but a hard border preceded that from 1922. With the softening of the border, we have seen better cross-border flow in public transport, radiotherapy, cooperation between district councils on INTERREG, second- and third-level education programmes across the board and other things that have been beneficial for people. The border has softened, but that has been by virtue of the fact that both are in the EU. The proposition being put in front of us is that we are to have an international border between the EU and a non-EU state right on our doorstep. That has caused a lot of fear and anxiety.

The EU has many faults. Being from a rural area and dealing with the farming community and rural groups, I know that there is lots of bureaucracy and things that really frustrate them. Even in relation to the A5, the EU habitats directive is one of the reasons why the project has been held up. There are many areas where the EU has faults, but, in the wider scheme of things, it is beneficial and the majority of people here prefer it. That is why they voted for it.

During the election campaign, we heard many promises on health and investment and what would be freed up to go into health. One of the things that I noted during the referendum and since it was a promise by the British Government of cheaper food after Brexit. Here in the North, farmers are battling the supermarkets, which are selling produce more cheaply than farmers can produce it. The fear, post Brexit, is that farmers will lose their subsidy, which accounts for 87% of their income. You will have trade deals opened with the likes of Argentina and the Americas, where beef is 60% cheaper, and the place will be flooded, literally, with cheap beef, and farmers will be pushed against the wall.

There is no certainty for farmers. I heard it said earlier that, up to 2020, the Chancellor has guaranteed this and guaranteed that. The reality is that, after 2020, nobody knows. I note predictions from our Finance Minister at the recent meeting in Leinster House that the percentage of the British block for the CAP, which is 9%, could drop to 3% in a post-Brexit scenario. The effect of that in rural areas in our part of the world would be devastating. Farming would not be sustainable any more, rural community groups would fold, and it would be very difficult to survive. We would end up almost like England is at the minute, where you have quaint little villages with very little in between them. That is something that we really want to resist.

I also note that, in the debate around Brexit, Professor Phinnemore spoke to the Executive Committee recently, and he said:

"No non-member state of the European Union has free trade with the EU in agricultural products".

There will always be controls, quotas and, in his words, "exceptionally high" tariffs, even if we remain part of the single market and the customs union. Brexit will have an absolutely devastating impact on agri-trade and on our rural communities. We hear talk that farmers are finding it OK now because they get a good conversion rate for the single farm payment. That is a short-term bounce —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

— that will be detrimental in the long term.

In conclusion, whilst we support today's motion, I add the caveat that we see that the best long-term future for this part of Ireland and, indeed, the island of Ireland is to remain.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I have an understanding of why the SDLP is bringing this before us again. It is a massive issue for the whole of the United Kingdom, the whole of the EU and, I suppose, the world. I get that. I get why we want to debate it, but, sooner or later, the Prime Minister will trigger article 50; sooner or later, the position of the United Kingdom Government will become clear in the negotiations with the European Union; sooner or later, we will see what is good and what is bad for Northern Ireland within that; and, sooner or later, we will be able to challenge Her Majesty's Government on that and try to influence and change that.

Throughout the months since the referendum verdict to leave the EU, which I and my constituents supported, as we have gone along, I have heard about how everyone who voted to leave Europe must be stupid, must be racist or must be elderly. Some of the language used around that time was absolutely scandalous. There is no doubt that this is a momentous occasion in the history of the world and, most definitely, Europe. It is probably one of the most seismic changes in post-war Britain. It probably goes right back as the most momentous decision since the home rule crisis. But we have to get over the decision that the United Kingdom population made.

When I read the motion, I think, as I sometimes thought with the "Remain" campaign, especially on the nationalist side, that this is desperation. I think that this is a lack of confidence. I think that this is the SDLP trying to scrap for nationalist votes in a diminishing market with Sinn Féin. I really think that that is what the motion is about.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Yes, I will.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

It is not usual for me to come to the defence of either Sinn Féin or the SDLP, but I will just say that it is a mistake for people to assume that the issue about special status and the consequences for Northern Ireland is purely for nationalists. Clearly, the Alliance Party is not a nationalist party. We were contacted over the summer by people from across the spectrum, including people who would declare themselves unionists, who are deeply concerned about the implications of Brexit and have asked us to take forward the cause of finding out some solution particular to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for that intervention. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Member is fighting on a nationalist agenda; he does not get any seats in nationalist constituencies, so I understand that. For nationalist parties, for the SDLP, they cannot tell us what the special status could be, just in the same way as anyone else cannot say what Brexit will be. That is because there is a negotiation to be had, and it is to be had by Her Majesty's Government. Brexit will be this: Brexit will be whatever Her Majesty's Government and Brussels agree on. That is what Brexit will be, and it is up to us in Northern Ireland to feed into that negotiation.

I am proud that my constituency of North Antrim voted to leave the European Union.

Some 62% of North Antrim decided that it is better to leave the United Kingdom.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

The EU.

[Laughter.]

I represent North Antrim, and I will represent all the people there in the next two years: the people who voted to remain and the people who voted to leave. I will represent those people as best I can. I will know what is a good deal for Northern Ireland and what is a bad deal for Northern Ireland, and I will know what part of a deal is bad for Northern Ireland and what part of a deal is good.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Yes, I will.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have no doubt that the Member will know if it is a good or a bad deal. Does he think therefore that we should have a vote on it, or should we just leave it to the British Prime Minister, who has not given us much hope that she is too concerned about whether it is a good or a bad deal for us?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I remind the Member that we have just had a vote. It is called a referendum. I remind the Member that, just as we debate Brexit in this Chamber every week, so does Westminster. Every single MP will have a chance to put their case to the Prime Minister.

Here is the point that I want to make before I sit down: Theresa May campaigned to remain, as did some of the Ulster Unionist Party, but she is now Prime Minister and has said clearly that we are leaving the EU. She has got over it. She knows what needs to be done for the betterment of the United Kingdom, and she accepts the democratic wish of the people of the United Kingdom. Why can other parties not accept that? That is not me saying that you should all become pro "Leave". I am not saying that at all, but I am saying that you should think about your constituents and what is the best way to —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

— represent and lead those constituents to make sure that we get a better deal for Northern Ireland. There are opportunities here. We should grasp them.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

This motion should be uncontroversial. In the last weeks and months, we have heard Members of all parties, regardless of their pre-referendum stance, talk about getting the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland. The constitutional, legal and political necessities of our situation, geographic and otherwise, will require specific provisions in the event of any Brexit. Every Member who has spoken acknowledged those, so we might as well seek to maximise and firmly embed them.

We are in uncharted waters here, but the EU is a creative problem-solver. The continent abounds with specific solutions to specific problems, but we need to meet the European Union halfway and set out a case. The SDLP has been very clear and consistent on this: people here voted decisively for the opportunity, stability and diversity of the EU, and it is our job to deliver that for them. Even those who do not share that view —

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will in a moment, but I have some progress to make.

Even those who did not campaign for or vote "Remain "should be clear-headed enough to know that any impacts, even if there are some good ones, would be felt disproportionately here. As custodians of the public interest, it is our job to set out a mitigation strategy, and special status is very worth pursuing.

The silence from the Executive on this is very worrying, particularly when those in London have made clear time and again that they never gave our situation much thought before the referendum, and they certainly are not wasting a lot of time on it now. It is ironic, given that this is an Assembly known for crises, drama and conflabs — once a year, we will be down in Stormont House or over in some stately home in England, and there will be late night press conferences and presidential hand-holding — that now, when an actual crisis has hit us, there is almost not a word, apart from one unrequited letter three months on. It is ridiculous. Whatever the very major issues in Stormont House, they never prompted a run on passport forms. The Executive remind me of a driver, possibly male, who is hopelessly lost but will not roll down the window and ask for directions. I am not given to quoting Martin McGuinness, but the article yesterday in which he set out his support for special status also said that he believes that the Executive need to get their "act together", and I concur.

It was a dollar short and a day late, but the letter that the joint First Ministers sent to Theresa May — we still do not know whether there has been a response — set out some very key issues. Heaven forbid, we could have campaigned on those jointly before 23 June and we might be in a different situation. It outlined issues around the need not to have a hard border, continued tariff-free access to the single market, free movement of labour, energy supplies — God help energy bills if sterling keeps going in the direction that it is going — and EU funding. However, it is impossible to see how any of those conditions would be met if we Brexit in the hard fashion that London is outlining without some special provision or status for this region. Northern Ireland voted for a very different future to that being set out by Theresa May, and we must have one.

The Good Friday Agreement gave Northern Ireland supremacy in deciding our constitutional future. It recognised the dual identity — that people here can be British or Irish or both, as they so choose — and it gave equal status to those identities. Those who shout and roar about supporting this referendum can maybe update their response to the Good Friday Agreement, given that they believe that 52% is an overwhelming majority in this case. Under that interpretation of the Good Friday Agreement and recognising the 56% vote, only Northern Ireland can determine its constitutional status, and it is clear that a clear majority voted to remain.

The SDLP has always stood by the principle of consent, even when it supported a constitutional status that was not of our choosing or our liking. This is not just a technical issue. Please do not underestimate the importance, to nationalism in particular, of unimpeded access to the rest of this island and of the European Union, which was so pivotal in allowing sovereign Ireland and sovereign UK to work together as equals and as partners, underpinned a supernational link between the contracting parties to the agreement and provided validation to Northern nationalists that the two Governments were cooperating with equal status.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. Given the references to "divisive nationalism", as one comment quoted Theresa May, does the Member have any observation about where divisive nationalism exists on these islands?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I think that it is very clear that the divisive nationalism in this case is the English nationalists who forced this on us. I will also say that, when they talk about having cake and eating it and about the best deal on the islands, they sound more and more like Donald Trump and this wall that the Mexicans are apparently going to pay for. For all of Theresa May and the other Brexiters' rhetoric, Brexit will mean what the EU says it means. We believe that the EU understands this region far better than London has; perhaps better than some people in the Chamber do.

We are somewhat encouraged by some of the change in direction and thinking. Some of the thinkers in the DUP, such as Jeffrey Donaldson, clearly understand some of the nuances, but we are disappointed that some of his colleagues are more bullish and do not seem to acknowledge the issues. The Brexiters told us for months that this was about taking back control. How does sitting on the Benches, rebutting every sensible argument, fall into that definition of taking back control? If this is about getting the best result for Northern Ireland, you cannot just sit back and wait for London to tell you how we will get out of this mess.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

When I first read this motion, I could not make up my mind whether the SDLP was still in denial or whether, in fact, it had come round to accepting the reality of the situation, which is, of course, that the people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. I am happy to state that I was one of those. Not only was I one of those, I campaigned and encouraged everybody else to do likewise. Not everybody did that, and I think that is a pity; but that is by the way.

I listened to some of the comments today, and I wonder where those Members have been living of late. I see that the party that brought the motion today is even beginning to get a bit tired of it. It is down to four Members. It did manage to get seven or eight on the Benches at the start but, one by one, they have all gone away and said, "We have more important —

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

We did not bring the motion. You brought it.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I ask Members not to make comments from sedentary positions.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

The SDLP should step into the real world and realise that the people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union, not to leave Europe. The sooner the SDLP gets round to accepting that, life will be a lot easier for it and it will maybe start to be a wee bit more progressive in its thinking going forward.

I listened to Mr Smith, I think it was, and it is ironic that the things that he outlined as reasons for staying in Europe are the very reasons that I voted to leave the European Union. The greater risk was remaining in the European Union, not leaving. I accept that there will be some tough decisions to be made as a result, but the tougher decisions would have been required had we stayed. It should be remembered that the United Kingdom contributes something like £18 billion per annum.

It gets back £11 billion per annum. There is a deficit there of some £7 billion, and I ask Members to keep that in mind.

Recently, the Northern Ireland manufacturing sales and export survey 2014, which was published in December 2015, made some interesting observations. I think it is worth quoting. It indicated that £8·3 billion of a total of £18·1 billion of sales goes to the GB mainland market. In percentage terms, that is 46%, so we must remember that our main market is the rest of the United Kingdom. Some £1·4 billion goes to the Irish Republic — that is 8%; £1·5 billion goes to the rest of the EU; £3·1 billion, or 17%, goes globally; and £3·8 billion remains in Northern Ireland. There are those who have tried to paint the picture today that it will be abject poverty for the United Kingdom once we leave the EU. I do not accept that. I do not accept that for a moment. I believe that, when we leave, there will be new horizons to look to and new opportunities will come. That does not mean that we will then have absolutely nothing to do with Europe. No one has ever advocated that at any time.

Mr McAleer maybe came closest to telling the facts when he said that we do not really know what will happen come 2020. That is right: we do not really know. Our fishing industry has welcomed that we are coming out of Europe, our farming industry has welcomed it, yet the question was put up today about what is going to happen to our agricultural industry when we pull out. What was going to happen to the —

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

Will the Member take an intervention?

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

Does the Member accept the point I made that never in the history of the EU has a non-EU state had an agricultural trade agreement with an EU state? In those circumstances, as Professor Phinnemore said, the tariffs will be very high, irrespective of whether we are in a customs union.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Thank you. I heard what the Member said, and I do not think he was entirely accurate in that.

Many in the debate, particularly those who moved the motion, said that Northern Ireland will be the lost cause. Indeed, it was Ms Hanna who very boldly stated that the EU understands Northern Ireland far better than the United Kingdom. If that is the case, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Your worries are now all over, because your friends and colleagues in Europe understand Northern Ireland far better than we do. That is a lot of nonsense; no disrespect to you. It is pure, unadulterated nonsense for anybody to come out with that and try to tell us that. We —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Yes. We will be in a better position come the day we leave the European Union. I understand that article 50 —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

— is going to be triggered at the end of March.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Is it not a pity it is not sooner?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

As Question Time begins at 2.00 pm, I suggest the House takes its ease until then. The debate will continue after the ministerial statement, when the next Member to speak will be Paula Bradshaw.

The debate stood suspended.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)