Alliance is a progressive, internationalist and pro-European party.
We recognise that in this modern, globalised world we face many transnational challenges from climate change to the regulation of the internet, and we are stronger through co-operation and pooling our sovereignty. The European Union allows us to face those challenges together.
People in Northern Ireland recognise the huge benefits of EU membership, which is why the majority voted to remain.
Alliance is standing up for Northern Ireland and advocating for the best interests of the people of this region, through maintaining political stability, defending the Good Friday Agreement, retaining open borders throughout these islands, protecting our economy and enabling future opportunities.
Northern Ireland only works based on sharing and interdependence, yet Brexit entails new divisions, barriers and friction. Brexit exposes contradictions and ambiguities that are otherwise being managed through the Good Friday Agreement.
Any form of Brexit poses significant problems for Northern Ireland.
Our economy depends on sales and supply chains across these islands. Brexit undermines people’s ability to enjoy current rights as EU citizens. Brexit brings problems for security and other forms of inter- governmental co-operation.
This is why there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit – it is an act of huge self-sabotage. We want to stop Brexit but if Brexit is forced through, we want to minimise the harm.
Our priorities and preferences are in descending order:
- A People's Vote to reconsider Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU.
- The whole of the UK remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union.
- A Special Deal that helps the Northern Ireland economy and defends the Good Friday Agreement.
Our Campaign for a People’s Vote
In order to stop Brexit the most coherent, feasible and democratic way forward is a People’s Vote.
The 2016 Referendum was an unclear choice between a clearly defined Remain and an undefined Leave option, interpreted as a broad range of scenarios. It was a snapshot in time based on limited information.
Questions persist regarding the fairness and transparency of the process. Many wild and unrealistic promises were made, including the NHS funding pledge on the side of a bus.
Over three years on from the referendum, we now know so much more about Brexit: the complexities, risks and impacts upon so many areas of life; the impracticalities of some of the proposals; and of course the wider political impasse it has caused.
Given all this, it cannot be a betrayal of the people who voted in 2016 to now ask again what they want. There are also over one million young people who have now joined the electorate. In a democracy, people have the right to change their mind and there is consistent evidence to suggest that there may now be a majority across the UK for Remain.
Indeed, it would be a tragedy if the UK ultimately left the EU, particularly in a cliff-edge no-deal, if a majority of people don’t want that to happen.
Opportunities to secure a People’s Vote have been missed on several occasions – Alliance is committed to using its influence in any incoming Parliament to finally secure a People’s Vote.
This will require the incoming UK Government requesting a further extension from the European Council to provide the necessary time to facilitate a proper referendum campaign. Parliament would then legislate to facilitate the referendum with the Electoral Commission advising on the intelligibility of the question.
We now know the shape of any deal that can be done with the EU and neither Theresa May’s deal nor Boris Johnson’s reflected the promises made in 2016. It is imperative that we put the final deal to the public with Remain as an option on the ballot paper.
A Special Deal for Northern Ireland
If Brexit happens and a softer version of Brexit is ruled out, UK-wide, then Alliance will support a special set of arrangements to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, building on the foundations of devolution.
Alliance wants Northern Ireland to remain part of a Customs Union with the European Union and the entire Single Market, including all four fundamental freedoms: the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. You can read more detailed proposals in our paper, Bridges not Borders, (November 2017).
We can maximise trade through the rest of world, benefitting from existing EU trade deals and negotiating new trade opportunities from a position of strength. Membership of the EU does not prevent the UK trading with any part of the world. By contrast, an independent trade policy would see the UK chasing trade deals from a position of weakness, and could see compromises around labour, environment, food safety and human rights, and risk undermining key aspects of the NI economy such as agri-food.
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 would turn its back on it a no deal scenario.
Other aspects of special arrangements for Northern Ireland should include:
- Protection of the rights of EU Nationals in Northern Ireland.
- Recognition of all people from Northern Ireland as EU Citizens.
- Maintenance of the all-island energy market.
- Renegotiated access to EU Structural Funds.
- Continued access to competitive EU funds, such as Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.
- Retained ability for Northern Ireland organisations to be the lead partner in EU programmes, such as INTERREG and PEACE, even as a third country.
- Participation in and access to the key policing, security and judicial mechanisms of the EU, such as the European Arrest Warrant and the Schengen Information System 2.
- If Northern Ireland were outside the European Union, there would be an expectation that the UK Government bridge any funding gaps to Northern Ireland. This must not revert to the Barnett Formula, as the existing approach to EU funding reflects the higher relative need of Northern Ireland. This is particularly relevant to any successor to the Common Agricultural Policy and the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund which may replace the Structural Funds.
Boris Johnson’s Deal
We believe there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit and any version of a Brexit deal will bring its own particular challenges.
The current Boris Johnson deal is more challenging for Northern Ireland than Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which included the crucial backstop for Northern Ireland. Theresa May’s deal fell well short of our concept of a special deal for Northern Ireland but at least provided a stronger platform from which to build.
The Johnson deal at a minimum only avoids a new border on the island of Ireland and protects the Good Friday Agreement. While any form of Brexit involves some degree of an interface to be managed, this deal entails a more bureaucratic, complicated and expensive framework of checks. There is also in-built uncertainty regarding the ongoing regulatory regime in Northern Ireland due to the requirement for periodic votes in the Assembly.
The Northern Ireland specific provisions only apply to the movement of goods and agri-food. The future relationship negotiations could lead to major gaps in relation to the service economy and the free movement of people. There is also uncertainty regarding Northern Ireland’s position on the level playing field provisions, including workers’ rights and environmental protections.
There may also be gaps and a deterioration of arrangements in relation to policing, and criminal and civil justice co-operation and uncertainty over access to EU programmes such as Horizons Europe and Erasmus+.
Moreover, a harder Brexit for Great Britain and a no deal situation, even at the end of any transition period, would have serious knock-on economic consequences for Northern Ireland.
If Boris Johnson’s deal is ratified by Parliament and implemented, Alliance will take the following actions:
- Supporting a future economic relationship based around a Customs Union and full participation in the Single Market.
- In the absence of the above, seeking to minimise declarations and checks on NI to GB and GB to NI trade respectively, plus pushing for further mitigations to reduce the regulatory burden and compliance costs for businesses, through clarification of the existing Withdrawal Agreement via the Joint Committee, further agreements with the EU, and financial assistance.
- Advocating a wider future economic relationship for our region beyond the terms and scope of the current Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol.
- Seeking access to a wide range of EU Programmes.
- Securing ongoing co-operation in policing and justice.
The Protection of Rights
Alliance believes that rights and equality are central to the cohesion of our society and to the wider European project.
At present, all the people of Northern Ireland have rights as EU Citizens. While those people from Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens have automatic entitlement to be EU citizens, the application of many of these rights may be only be operational within the territory of the EU. Brexit therefore risks loss of existing rights to access health care and educational opportunities. By contrast, future recognition of rights only to those who are Irish citizens risks breaching the Good Friday Agreement as those people in Northern Ireland who are solely British citizens would no longer enjoy parity.
We are opposed to any regression or diminution of the existing rights that the people of Northern Ireland currently have through EU membership.
There is a joint challenge for the UK Government, the Irish Government and the EU to ensure continuity and further application of additional rights that become recognised. This should apply to all those who reside within Northern Ireland and these rights should remain fully enforceable through the judicial mechanisms of the EU.
Alliance wants also to ensure that Northern Ireland remains welcoming to all those from elsewhere in the European Union and the rest of the world who have made this region their home, helping to build our economy and enriching our society. In the event of Brexit, some limited immigration powers should be given to the Assembly in order to have a system that better reflects the particular circumstances of our economy.
We want the 1981 UK Nationality Act to be amended to better reflect in law the identity and citizenship terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
We believe the Common Travel Area should be placed on a formal legal basis.
Our Key Documents (Documents open in a new window)
Bridges Not Borders:
The Case for Special Status: