Stur­geon takes Brexit plea to US

● Prime Min­is­ter to stress Brexit will not lead to hard bor­der ● Meet­ing sched­uled with DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter to­day

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By PARIS GOURTSOYAN­NIS West­min­ster Cor­re­spon­dent

Nicola Stur­geon urged the UK gov­ern­ment to ask the EU to de­lay the planned date for Brexit in her speech last night at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity in Wash­ing­ton DC. She also re­it­er­ated her call for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the EU.

The UK gov­ern­ment “will find a way to de­liver Brexit that hon­ours our com­mit­ments” to the peace process, Theresa May will say in a speech in North­ern Ire­land.

The Prime Min­is­ter will meet po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and busi­nesses to­day to seek con­sen­sus and in a bid to re­as­sure the peo­ple of North­ern Ire­land that Brexit will not see the re­turn of a hard bor­der.

Mrs May has staked her Brexit deal on con­vinc­ing the EU to re­open the agree­ment be­tween Lon­don and Brus­sels to re­place the in­sur­ance pol­icy to pre­vent a hard bor­der, known as the back­stop.

How­ever, her ap­peals have so far been re­jected de­spite the Prime Min­is­ter set­ting a dead­line of Valen­tine’s Day to present the Com­mons with a rene­go­ti­ated deal.

“I know this is a con­cern­ing time for many peo­ple here in North­ern Ire­land,” the Prime Min­is­ter is ex­pected to say.

“But we will find a way to de­liver Brexit that hon­ours our com­mit­ments to north­ern Ire­land, that com­mands broad sup­port across the com­mu­nity in North­ern Ire­land and that se­cures a ma­jor­ity in the West­min­ster par­lia­ment, which is the best way to de­liver for the peo­ple of North­ern Ire­land.

“As we do so, I hope we can also take steps to move to­wards the restora­tion of de­vo­lu­tion – so that politi­cians in North­ern Ire­land can get back to work on the is­sues that mat­ter to the peo­ple they rep­re­sent.”

The Demo­cratic Union­ist Party con­firmed it would hold Brexit talks with Mrs May in Belfast. Party leader Ar­lene Fos­ter said she would tell the Prime Min­is­ter the pro­posed bor­der back­stop “drives a coach and horses through the Belfast [Good Fri­day] Agree­ment’s prin­ci­ple of con­sent” and would ef­fec­tively cre­ate a new bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the rest of the UK.

Mrs Fos­ter said: “Par­lia­ment has spo­ken. A ma­jor­ity has re­jected the cur­rent back­stop.

“The Euro­pean Union must now ac­cept the need for the with­drawal agree­ment to be re­opened. The toxic back­stop must be dealt with.”

She added: “It is im­por­tant that the scare­mon­ger­ing about barbed wire and check­points is ex­posed as non­sense. Bor­der com­mu­ni­ties should not have gen­uine fears ex­ploited with such tall tales.”

Sinn Fein pres­i­dent Mary Lou Mcdon­ald and deputy leader Michelle O’neill will also meet Mrs May in Belfast. “The ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the north con­tinue to op­pose Brexit and want to pro­tect the Good Fri­day Agree­ment and pre­vent the re­turn of a hard bor­der,” Ms O’neill said fol­low­ing a meet­ing with Labour’s shadow Brexit sec­re­tary Sir Keir Starmer. “It is on that ba­sis that the ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal par­ties sup­port the back­stop.” Sir Keir said Labour ac­cepted it was “im­pos­si­ble to see a way for­ward without a back­stop”.

Se­nior Tories from both wings of the party met in White­hall yes­ter­day for talks aimed at find­ing a so­lu­tion to the Ir­ish bor­der is­sue fol­low­ing last week’s Com­mons vote calling for “al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments” to re­place the back­stop.

Down­ing Street has in­di­cated po­ten­tial so­lu­tions could re­volve around a time limit or uni­lat­eral break clause on the back­stop or new tech­nolo­gies to make it un­nec­es­sary.

The al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments work­ing group, made up of se­nior Leave and Re­main-lean­ing Tories, held its first talks in White­hall with Brexit sec­re­tary Stephen Bar­clay. Mean­while, for­mer North­ern Ire­land first min­is­ter Lord Trim­ble has threat­ened to take the gov­ern­ment to court over the back­stop.

Lord Trim­ble said he and oth­ers were plan­ning to ini­ti­ate ju­di­cial re­view pro­ceed­ings over an al­leged breach of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment.

The for­mer leader of the Ul­ster Union­ist Party said the pro­ceed­ings would de­mand the re­moval of the pro­to­col on North­ern Ire­land from Mrs May’s with­drawal agree­ment.

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