WITH the crunch vote on Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal due to take place at Westminster today, elected representatives from Tyrone remain divided on what would be the best way forward for the North.
Chaotic scenes from inside the Houses of Parliament have dominated the recent news coverage of Brexit with just over 70 days to go until the UK is due to leave the European Union.
With the Prime Minister heading for defeat in the vote on her draft Withdrawal Agreement, due to the widespread opposition of Leavers and Remainers on both sides of Parliament, the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal increases.
And the deep divisions over Brexit that exist in Westminster are reflected among the political parties here in Tyrone.
Sinn Féin has warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the North’s agriculture and construction sectors, both key parts of Tyrone’s economy. Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP, Michelle Gildernew, claimed, “It will limit access to markets, put subsidies at risk, jeopardise food safety and put the future of many farms, particularly small farms in doubt.”
Her party colleague, West Tyrone MP, Órfhlaith Begley, has claimed that construction workers from the North are concerned they may not be able to work on an all-Ireland basis post-Brexit.
She said, “I have been dealing with construction firms in Tyrone who are concerned their employees will not be able to work across the island post-Brexit because of problems with recognition of qualifications.”
Ms Begley added, “This is yet another example of how Brexit will hit workers and industry in the North and underscores the need for the interests of the people of the North and our economy to be protected.”
SDLP West Tyrone MLA, Daniel McCrossan, whose party supports the draft Withdrawal Agreement, said it was “reckless” to suggest there was an alternative to the backstop – the device contained in the deal intended to ensure that there would be no hard border between the North and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr McCrosan said, “It is absolutely vital that come Tuesday, Westminster backs the backstop to ensure our economic interests are protected and our people are free from the threat of a hard border.”
But DUP West Tyrone MLA, Tom Buchanan, reiterated his own party’s opposition to the withdrawal agreement, due to the presence of the backstop.
Mr Buchanan said, “The DUP has been clear that there must be a sensible deal, one that is good for all the people. The one red line we have is that we could not agree to a border in the Irish Sea. The backstop would do that.”
Omagh UUP councillor, Chris Smyth, said that his party was “deeply concerned” that the UK was hurtling towards a ‘do deal’ scenario, but, even so, could not support the draft Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Smyth warned, “It risks cutting Northern Ireland off from its biggest market.”