Ulster Unionists rules out no-deal Brexit

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An Ulster Unionist candidate for the European Parliament has ruled out a no-deal Brexit as a “step into the unknown”.

Danny Kennedy said a sensible agreement would protect businesses and the agri-food sector while maximising future opportunities for young people in Northern Ireland.

He said holding a second referendum would only deepen division.

Mr Kennedy is running for one of the region’s three seats in Brussels in this month’s poll.

He said: “We simply cannot afford to take a step into the unknown.

“I understand that people are keen to see Brexit delivered, but it has to be done in a way which protects business, our agri-food sector and gives maximum opportunity to our young people for the future.

“It is not in Northern Ireland’s interests and it is certainly not in the interests of the pro-union population here.”

Danny Kennedy is running for one of Northern Ireland’s three seats in Brussels in this month’s poll (Liam McBurney/PA)

Nationalist SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long are also competing for the final place.

Mr Kennedy added: “No deal has the potential to do serious damage, if not fatal damage, to many of our industries.

“As someone who loves Northern Ireland, I could not stand up and advocate that and I am astonished that anyone who loves the union as much as I do would be prepared to tolerate that.”

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has previously said a no-deal Brexit would not bring back a hard Irish border.

His party has been clear that protecting the union is its primary concern.

The border backstop has been a major stumbling block for the DUP and prevented Prime Minister Theresa May from securing the support of her erstwhile parliamentary allies for her Withdrawal Agreement.

Unionists are concerned the backstop insurance policy keeping Northern Ireland’s regulations in line with the Republic’s could produce divergence from the rest of the UK and threaten the country’s integrity.

Mr Kennedy said: “I am disappointed that those who have been loud opponents to a hard border on the island fall silent when it comes to the prospect of a hard border in the Irish Sea.

“Unionist concerns around the backstop are just as valid and are afforded equal protection under the Good Friday Agreement as those of our nationalist neighbours about a hard land border.”

The former minister in the Stormont Executive said the two-and-a-half year absence of devolved powersharing at Stormont was also a major issue on the doorsteps.

Veteran Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson is retiring.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said: “This election is about who you want to represent you in Brussels now, not a re-run of a vote taken in 2016.

“It is about looking to the future, and the future relationship that the United Kingdom – including Northern Ireland – has with the European Union.”

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