Former EC official calls for North to get 'honorary' EU membership

Northern Ireland should be given "honorary" European Union (EU) membership while remaining part of the UK, a former European Commission head in Belfast has said.

The SDLP has joined calls for a referendum on a united Ireland after Brexit to allow the region to rejoin the 27-country bloc.

Jane Morrice said the North could become a European place of global peace-building.

She added: "Honorary EU membership would not only protect the peace process and counter any negative impact of Brexit but also promote peace worldwide by making Northern Ireland the launchpad of a new EU-led global peace-building initiative."

Nationalists are campaigning for the North to be given special status within the EU following Brexit.

The Democratic Unionists supported Leave in last year's referendum.

Ms Morrice added: "Honorary EU membership would protect the peace process by avoiding a hard border and allowing Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and part of the EU in keeping with the consent principle of the Good Friday Agreement.

"It would allow citizens of Northern Ireland to remain European and retain their rights, and it would ensure continued support for peace and prosperity in the region."

Polls show most want to remain in the EU and in the UK.

Ms Morrice said: "Honorary EU membership would do that and would avoid further destabilising the delicately-balanced Northern Ireland political institutions by maintaining the status quo, but only if the request is put by the UK and Ireland at the behest of the Northern Ireland Assembly/Executive."

She said Stormont powersharing talks offered another opportunity to agree a common position.

"It would exceptionally give Northern Ireland the right to retain the benefits of EU membership and maintain an open border, while remaining part of the UK.

"In keeping with the (Good Friday) Agreement, which affords Northern Ireland citizens the right to be British and Irish, therefore European, it would defend citizens' rights and protect the peace process by ensuring continued EU support for peace and prosperity as well as joint UK/Ireland co-operation to that end."

The former member of the Women's Coalition, which participated in the peace talks which led to the 1998 accord, said her proposal would allow the country to share its peace and reconciliation experience with the rest of the world.

She said the EU should spearhead a global peace-building initiative entitled White Dove after the Irish pilgrim Columbanus who left for Europe in the sixth century.

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