SDLP remains opposed to Brexit and triggering of Article 50

Posted By: November 23, 2016

 Margaret Ritchie. Letters to Editor. Irish News (Belfast). Opposed to Brexit and triggering of Article 50

 Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Behind their confident talk and premature self-congratulations, one senses that the Brexiteers of Westminster are troubled. Already they can see that Britain outside of the EU will not be the land they have promised, and little can they rely on the patience of a public that only voted to Leave by the slimmest of majorities.

The absence of any solutions to how the worst damage of Brexit could be avoided, the government and Eurosceptic press have instead decided their solution – scrutiny of Britain’s exit must be absolutely minimized, and opposition to the government’s specific plans (or lack of plans) must be derided as disrespect for the ‘will of the people.”

As someone who has spent my whole political life fighting for civil rights and a fairer politics, I cannot accept this.

The challenge to democracy does not lie in giving too much power to elected constituencies’ representatives. The real challenge to democracy comes instead from a government, which, on the grounds of protecting the UK’s negotiating position, seeks to give a Prime Minister with no personal mandate the exclusive right to interpret the meaning of a narrow referendum result.

The experience has illustrated why poorly planned and hastily implemented referendums have the potential to be so dangerous for public representation. A poorly orchestrated referendum elevates one question issue above all others and erases others.

No constituency or individual can ever be said to be truly single-issue. We all carry with us a range of beliefs, interests and priorities that cannot be easily reflected by a single question asked on a ballot paper on a single day. That is why we elect representatives who can use their judgment to consider all the views and needs of their constituency and then reflect these in their votes in parliament. If a representatives do a bad job, their constituents need only wait to the next election to summarily dismiss them.

Northern Ireland’s particular reliance on the EU means that, if Brexit cannot be stopped its damage must be mitigated.

The SDLP has consistently called for special arrangements to be established for Northern Ireland, which ideally would retain the full rights and benefits of EU membership throughout the island of Ireland.

With the government refusing even to begin discussions on how this could be achieved, or how Northern Ireland’s interests can be accommodated, the SDLP will consistently vote against Brexit and the triggering of Article 50.

SDLP, South Down