Steven Agnew is the Leader of the Green Party Northern Ireland.
The Green Party is committed to putting people first. This means securing a referendum on the final Brexit deal, protecting our public services and ensuring that equality extends to all our citizens.
“There is nothing to win in this process – and I am talking about both sides. In essence this is about damage control.”
EC president Donald Tusk
I share the bleak assessment of Donald Tusk in this instance and know that we need to change course to avoid the damage that Brexit would inflict upon Northern Ireland.
There must be a referendum on the final Brexit deal and the option to remain must be on the table. Democracy did not end on the 23rd June 2016.
The EU referendum was a vote taken in ignorance, by all of us. Ten months on we still do not know what Brexit will look like; what “no hard border” actually means, what trade with the Republic of Ireland will cost and what opportunities for our young people will be lost.
A referendum on the final deal will allow us to make an informed choice. It will also strengthen the UK’s hand in negotiations.
At the moment we are working on the assumption that if we like the Brexit deal, we leave, if we don’t, we still leave. That gives us no card to play in the negotiations with the EU. We need the option to remain.
That is why I am taking the ‘Dublin case’ which seeks to establish that Article 50 is unilaterally revocable. It’s author, and former Supreme Court Judge, Lord Kerr maintains that it is. I am confident that we will get a referral to the European Court of Justice and a ruling that the decision on EU membership remains with the UK.
In Westminster, Green MP Caroline Lucas has been a leading figure of opposition to Brexit in Westminster.
I’m buoyed by the Green surge that has taken place across the UK with over one million people voting Green in the last general election. This has been replicated across Europe where voters are choosing the Green Party as their alternative to far right populism. Most notably, the Dutch Greens quadrupled their vote share in March 2017.
In Northern Ireland the Green Party continues to grow and in standing in seven constituencies we are standing our greatest number of Westminster candidates ever.
While Brexit will dominate in this election it should not distract us from the fact that it is also about who governs us. More than any decision the Assembly has made, or not made in its absence, it is Tory austerity that is driving our health and education systems to the wall.
It should be a surprise to no one that since the implementation of austerity, hospital waiting lists have risen. You starve the NHS of resources and inevitably things start to crumble. However, anti-immigrant rhetoric is always there to deflect from the true cause of our ills.
The same applies to housing and education. In Northern Ireland we have minimal net immigration with roughly the same number of people leaving as coming in. If the immigration argument were true we would have the best public services in the UK. The reality is we have the longest waiting lists.
In putting people first the Green Party will also prioritise investment in our public services to ensure a fair and equitable society.