Alliance is a progressive, internationalist and pro-European party.
The European Union breaks down barriers between people and communities, states and regions.. In this modern, globalised world with many transnational challenges from climate change to the regulation of the internet, we are stronger through co-operation and pooling our sovereignty.
Membership of the European Union is strongly in Northern Ireland’s interests. And the people of this region voted to remain.
There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit. It is an act of huge self-harm.
Alliance is standing up for Northern Ireland and advocating for what is in the best interests of people of this region, through supporting political stability, protecting the Good Friday Agreement, maintaining open borders throughout these islands, and 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.
All forms of Brexit pose 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.
Our position is that Brexit should be reconsidered. But if Brexit is to proceed, 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.
We also support the backstop. The backstop is only an insurance policy, a safety-net. It is not an option in itself. However, it is consistent with both scenarios 2 and especially number 3. In particular, we need to bank the backstop, while looking for better solutions that may build upon that platform.
Our Campaign for a People’s Vote
The most coherent, feasible and democratic way forward on Brexit is a People’s Vote.
While the bottom line for Northern Ireland must be to bank the backstop, there is no such thing as a good Brexit. Any opportunity to reconsider Brexit itself should be considered.
The 2016 Referendum may have been the largest UK vote to date. But it was a stark choice between a clearly defined Remain and an undefined Leave option, which could be 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 false and obtainable promises were made, including the health funding pledge on the side of a bus.
Furthermore, the complexities, risks and impacts of Brexit upon so many areas of life are now more apparent, as are the impracticalities of some of the mooted possible courses and the wider political impasse.
Democracy is an ongoing and active process. It cannot be a betrayal of the people who voted in 2016 to now check in again with the people again given what is happened. We must also consider that well over one million young people have now joined the electorate. 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, and in particular went over the cliff-edge in a no-deal context, if a majority of people don’t want that to happen.
The UK Parliament would need to legislate for a People’s Vote or a confirmatory vote. The Electoral Commission would also advise on the intelligibility of the question.
The optimal approach would be a multi-preference vote between: Remain, the proposed deal, and no deal. Remain must be a choice. It is unlikely that any referendum would be viewed as legitimate and conclusive without a No Deal option.
A referendum could be triggered in a range of circumstances, including an amendment to any future Meaningful Vote on the Withdrawal Agreement placed before Parliament or as part of the legislation that follow a Meaningful Vote, or as a free-standing decision of the Cabinet and Parliament to refer Brexit back to the people.
Banking the Backstop
Any negotiated version of Brexit requires a Withdrawal Agreement. And there will be no prospect of a Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop.
The backstop was envisaged as the minimum protections necessary to avoid a hard border and to protect the Good Friday Agreement, including north-south co-operation and rights. It was scoped out first in the December 2017 Joint Report and intended to be an insurance policy or safety net to provide protection until or unless a longer term solution was found.
The backstop provides a foundation regarding what is possible in terms of the future relationship. The presence of the backstop essentially ensures that the future relationship will see a situation in which either the UK as a whole or Northern Ireland specifically needs to stay sufficiently aligned with the EU to meet the minimum terms to avoid a hard border.
The backstop would keep the UK, and in future potentially Northern Ireland alone, aligned with aspects (i.e. goods) of the EU’s trade framework and the common commercial policy.
Northern Ireland will have unfettered access to the EU market for goods and also the UK market in all respects. There would be a minimum of new checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but only some of these would need to be conducted in transit. Local products can be marketed separately as UK(NI). Certification of compliance with EU rules can be conducted by one or other of UK or EU authorities.
The backstop could allow Northern Ireland to have a competitive advantage, and be a focal point for investment, through the balance of access to both the wider UK and EU markets.
It is consistent with our own proposals in Bridges not Borders. However, Bridges not Borderswent further and covered the entire single market, including all of the fundamental freedoms, not goods, i.e. services, capital and movement of labour.
Key Points on the Backstop
- Only arises because the UK is leaving the EU and need to avoid a hard border between NI/Ireland and to protect the Good Friday Agreement
- An insurance policy - only coming into play if no solution is provided to keeping the border open
- Ensures that border is kept open through NI remaining within the EU Customs Union and the Single Market for goods, but not services, people or capital
- Is not a constitutional issue - NI remains part of the UK, and that can only be changed through the Principle of Consent
- Consistent with devolution - NI already does things differently, including in economic terms – such as the Single Electricity Market and the successful campaign for the ability to lower Corporation Tax and potentially harmonise on the island
- Builds on existing precedents around checks down the Irish Sea
- Does not cut off NI from the GB market, rather it allows us to more easily be part of both the UK and EU economies
- Only there “unless or until” a better solution is found which in practice should be at least as good and build on principles of the backstop
- Isn’t perfect- it isn’t meant to be – and any form of Brexit is going to deliver a degree of friction, with this approach bringing the least amount of additional friction
- it’s a foundation from which to build a future relationship
Trading Through the European Union
An independent trade policy is a grand delusion.
We can maximise trade through the rest of world, benefiting from existing EU trade deals and negotiate 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 undermine 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.
A Special Deal for Northern Ireland
If Brexit does occur, and a softer version of Brexit is ruled out, UK-wide, then Alliance will support a special set of arrangements to reflect the special and particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. This would build on the foundations of the Executive. Alliance will seek to see Northern Ireland to remain as part of a Customs Union with the European Union and the entire Single Market, including all four fundamental freedoms, i.e. the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. We set out our proposals in this regard in our paper Bridges not Borders (November 2017).
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+
- 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.
In the event that Northern Ireland was outside the European Union, there would be an expectation that the UK Government would ensure that any funding gaps to Northern Ireland are backfilled. This must not revert to the Barnett Formula as the existing approach to EU funding reflects the higher relative need of Northern Ireland. This applies in particular to any successor to the Common Agricultural Policy and the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund which may replace the Structural Funds.
The Protection of Rights
At present, all the people of Northern Ireland have rights as EU Citizens. Rights and equality are central to the cohesion of our society and to the wider European project.
We are opposed to any regression or diminution of the existing rights that the people of Northern Ireland currently have through the European Union.
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. This 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.
There is a joint challenge for the UK Government, the Irish Government and the European Union to ensure continuity and further application of additional rights that become recognised. This should apply to all those who reside within Northern Ireland. Furthermore 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 Northern Ireland Assembly in order to have a system that better reflects the particular circumstances of the economy.
Alliance also wants the 1981 UK Nationality Act to better reflect in law the identity and citizenship terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Alliance also wants to see the Common Travel Area placed on a formal legal basis.
Our Key Documents (Documents open in a new window)
Bridges Not Borders:
The Case for Special Status: