Stormont assembly members 'to reject Brexit deal'
By Rebecca Black and David Young, PA
Stormont Assembly members are set to reject the Government's Brexit withdrawal deal as they debate the EU exit for the first time since restoration.
Just over a week after it was revived after a three-year political impasse, the devolved legislature in Belfast is debating whether to give legislative consent to the Brexit agreement.
While members are likely to withhold consent their decision will not impact on the Government's plan to leave the EU at the end of the month.
Ahead of the debate, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "I'm fairly confident the Assembly will reject giving consent to Brexit which we all, in the main and in the majority, voted against.
"We are very conscious of the fact and we have repeatedly stated this, that there is no good to come from Brexit - it brings nothing only jeopardy to our economy and to jobs, to future prospects and I think that will be reflected in the debate we will have in Assembly chamber today."
Ms O'Neill noted that MSPs in Scotland had also rejected the Government's legislation and predicted politicians in Wales would follow suit.
"It's significant that this Assembly sends a very firm message again that we reject Brexit, that we follow after Scotland has rejected Brexit and I believe Wales will vote tomorrow to maybe also reject Brexit," she said.
Ms O'Neill said Brexit had "irreversibly" changed the debate on a united Ireland.
The republican leader said the EU pledge that would see Northern Ireland regain EU membership in the event of unification was a key factor.
"That has changed the context of the conversation and I think there is a very positive conversation under way now which is irreversible, I think that's where the whole political debate is," she said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the Government did not care about the people of Northern Ireland.
"It's important that this Assembly asserts its authority on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland," he said ahead of the debate.
"We have always said people here did not give consent for Brexit and it's important that this Assembly withholds consent for Brexit.
"We know this British Government will ignore us but when they are ignoring us they are ignoring the people of Northern Ireland, people of Scotland and the representatives of the people of Wales.
"That shows you what kind of government that is sitting now in London. They do not care about people here, they don't care about people in Scotland, and they are determined to go on with the madness that is this Brexit.
"Next week we will be dragged out of the European Union against our will, against the will of people here and people in Scotland. That's why it's important that we're here, that's why it's important that we're rejecting it."
Mr Eastwood said the UK was facing a cliff-edge at the end of the year, insisting it would be impossible to strike a trade deal with the EU before then.
"So we are faced with chaos at the beginning of 2021," he said.