Council on Europe formed to push for North's interests concerning Brexit

Political, business and community leaders have come together to advocate for the North's interests in the Brexit negotiations.

Ulster Unionist Steve Aiken is the chairman of the newly-formed Independent Council on Europe.

SDLP MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell is one of the vice-chairmen.

Mr Aiken said: "Given the historic few days we have witnessed in the House of Commons it is high time that Northern Ireland begins to assert itself amidst the uncertainty of Brexit.

"The Scottish and Welsh governments have already produced comprehensive papers on how they view their future place in Europe.

"Sadly the political inertia and instability here means we are lagging far behind.

"Our Council is determined to fill the vacuum left by poor political leadership at Stormont and produce our own paper on how Northern Ireland can best navigate the choppy seas of Brexit."

Dr McDonnell said one of his deepest fears surrounded the border.

"Platitudes from the Prime Minister and Secretary of State about 'no-return to the borders of the past' will not wash.

"The current course of action would suggest that we are heading for a hard border, with customs and excise checks that will cause total havoc.

"It is my hope that this Independent Council on Europe can be a strong voice, in the absence of a functioning Executive at Stormont, championing our unique circumstances and arguing for the retention of the already existing special relationship between Europe and Northern Ireland."

Another vice-chairman, Ian Parsley from the European Movement NI, called on the Federation of Small Businesses, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Ulster Farmers Union and others to make submissions to the new group.

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