The Sinn Fein politician has called for special EU status for Northern Ireland, amid ongoing concerns over how the region’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland will be affected by EU withdrawal.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr McGuinness said: “As things stand at the moment we’re going to suffer big time. Theresa May says ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but so far as we are concerned Brexit means a disaster for the people of Ireland.”
He added that the EU referendum risks undermining the Good Friday Agreement which became the corner stone of the peace process in Northern Ireland following decades of the Troubles conflict: “One of the main arguments [was] there would be no change in the constitutional position of the north [of Ireland] without a majority of the north. Yet leaving the EU is a massive constitutional change, especially for those that saw dual Irish citizenship, the massive EU investment in the peace process and the wider economic investment.
“We were all working on the basis that the maintenance of EU membership was a continuing part of the Good Friday Agreement. The fatal decision to hold the referendum was made without any consideration whatsoever on its impact on the island of Ireland.”
Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, by a margin of 56 to 44 per cent. The Democratic Unionist Party backed leaving the EU, while Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance, Ulster Unionist Party and Northern Irish Green party backed Remain.
As the only part of the UK which shares a land border with another EU country, concerns have been raised as to whether a border may be erected between the two regions following Brexit. Northern Ireland also receives a considerable about of financial funding from the EU via grants for cross-community projects between nationalist and unionist communities, known locally as ‘peace money’; prompting concerns this funding may now cease.
Last week, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire suggested the UK’s border could effectively shift to the Republic of Ireland, with Irish police tasked with enforcing immigration restrictions at docks and airports. The move could avoid a harder border between north and south of the island, but has been derided by some as enabling a non-UK country to have undue responsibility for British borders contrary to Leave campaign pledges that leaving the EU would allow Britain to “take back control of our borders”.
The Belfast High Court is currently hearing a legal challenge to Brexit brought by the father of a man killed by loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles. He is arguing Brexit could threaten the peace process and Theresa May must therefore receive assent from the Northern Ireland Assembly before exiting the EU.
A separate challenge to Brexit is being heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which cites fears about how Northern Ireland could be affected by EU withdrawal as a central concern in its legal arguments.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies