Minister calls on Sinn Féin to take up seats in House of Commons

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has called on Sinn Féin to take up its seats in Westminster given that the political situation is now on a “knife-edge”.

Minister Charlie Flanagan

A number of motions, which contradict the white paper published by the British government last week, passed through the British parliament this week, causing some to claim that Theresa May’s Brexit proposals are dead.

Last night, Ms May faced further pressure as pro-Europe Conservative members put forward a motion for the UK to stay in a customs union if there is no trade agreement by January 21, 2019.

Mr Flanagan said given that the numbers in the House of Commons are extremely tight, it is now time for Sinn Féin to end its policy of abstentionism.

The minister for justice said: “The situation in the UK is on a knife-edge. We’ve seen the publication of the white paper which was welcome. Now the contents of that white paper are in serious doubt. Votes are very tight.

There are seven lawfully elected Sinn Féin MPs. They could tilt the balance in their favour if they wished.

“I acknowledge that this is a long-held position of Sinn Féin, one of abstentionism. I’m not a supporter of boycotts or abstaining.

“There may well be an opportunity now to reverse that on the part of Sinn Féin.”

This was echoed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who claimed that hardline Brexiteers had won the Westminster vote because of Sinn Féin abstentionism.

He said the majority of people in Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the EU are not represented in parliament and that the “damaging vote for Ireland” would have been defeated if Sinn Féin MPs had been present.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the increasing volatility in Westminster should not be a cause for concern, and he said that preparations for a hard Brexit will be stepped up.

I think it is evident to everyone that there is a lot of political instability in London, that there is turmoil at Westminster, and I think we are going to see more, many more twists and turns in the weeks and months ahead,” said the Taoiseach.

“The votes that have taken place will obviously have to go on to the House of Lords but the one thing we all know is that when it comes to the withdrawal agreement, I think we can come to a withdrawal agreement in October, that also has to be approved by Westminster and the European Parliament,” he said.

The vote on the withdrawal agreement in Westminster will supercede any of the votes that are happening now, he insisted.

Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath said he is now “very concerned” about Brexit and said it is now time to start providing more flexibility in talks to the British government.

“I think we need to start giving a little bit more support to Theresa May, she’s in a very, very sticky position.

“I think she’s pushing for a soft Brexit and that’s exactly the direction we want to go, and I think any stiffening or too hardening of resolve from the EU side, I think we need to be a little bit more flexible to support her here,” he said.


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