Northern Ireland at 'potential crossroads', Corbyn says

Saturday, 26 May, 2018

He will also talk about the issues around Brexit, with the Irish border and customs arrangements now dividing the Government.

"That was the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement".

"That is why Labour has put forward a plan that would go a long way to solving this issue, a plan for which I believe there is a majority in Westminster".

In his first visit to Northern Ireland as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn will say Labour will not support a Brexit deal that imposes a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Pressed on Mr Corbyn's views on Irish reunification, his official spokesman said: "Over the years he has made his position clear that the majority of those people across the whole island of Ireland wanted to see that outcome, a united Ireland".

The two sides accept the need for a "backstop", but differ on how it should work.

Part of the 1998 agreement was the establishment of a power-sharing devolved government at Stormont which collapsed in January 2017.

The suggestion that the British-Irish intergovernmental conference should be reconvened has angered some unionists, who oppose Dublin having a formal role in ending the stalemate at Stormont.

That body has not met for more than a decade, largely because British-Irish relations have been at an all-time high with constant informal contact between officials and ministers.

"We must step up to find a creative solution, in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, that avoids a return to direct Westminster rule and lays the ground for further progress for all communities".

Corbyn said Labour's proposal for a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union, with a British say on future trade deals and arrangements, coupled with a new, strong relationship with the EU single market would prevent communities being divided.

The Labour leader also argued that maintaining an open border is not just about avoiding paperwork or tariffs.

Corbyn, in his speech at Queen's University, Belfast, will appeal for renewed efforts to revive it.

Mr Corbyn said he is not advocating or asking for a referendum on Irish unity.

Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis dismissed Mr Corbyn's comments, accusing Labour of saying one thing in private and another in public, in a reference to shadow global trade secretary Barry Gardiner's description of the Belfast Agreement as a "shibboleth", for which he subsequently apologised. This is a chance for Corbyn to show Labour is serious about its Brexit plan.

Whether they can contest elections is now subject to an internal review, which is understood to be in its final stages, but any decision to change the current policy would need to be taken by Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC).