Young people from Northern Ireland have met with the EU’s chief negotiator in Brussels to plead with him not to sacrifice their future over the crucial days ahead.
The campaigners – aged between 16 and 23 – told Michel Barnier that, as ‘children of the peace process’ who grew up after the Good Friday Agreement, that the Irish backstop cannot be used as bargaining chip in Theresa May’s efforts to appease her hardline backbenchers or the DUP.
The Our Future Our Choice campaigners expressed alarm at recent media reports that the EU may be preparing to water-down commitments to maintain peace and that, too often, the voices of young people have been ignored.
The group represents Unionists and Nationalists alike, united by their opposition to this Brexit deal and their desire for a final say with young people across the United Kingdom.
23-year-old Doire Finn from Newry said: ‘We are the children of the peace process, the first generation to grow up in a region free from conflict. We represent the voices of young people in Northern Ireland – not the DUP or Theresa May.
‘Our futures are not bargaining chips in a game of poker being played between the UK government, the DUP and the EU. Too many lives have been lost in the past, too many vices are being unheeded, too many lessons are now being forgotten.
‘Any changes now to the backstop whether within or outside the formal Withdrawal Agreement risk jeopardising the integrity and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
21-year-old Tara Connolly from Belfast told Sky News that the backstop had become unnecessarily ‘politicised’.
‘I think the backstop isn’t something that is party political – it is essential, and is something that is benefical for everyone that lives in Ireland, whether it’s north or south. I would appeal to the nature of politicians in Westminster to see how vital it is.’
Barnier told the campaigners that the backstop would not be time limited, nor would offer any party a unilateral exit clause. He also encouraged more young people to get involved in politics if they want to change it.
After the meeting, Finn said: ‘We are so grateful to M Barnier for listening to our concerns, and reiterating his commitment to the backstop – a necessary mechanism to preserve an open border and peace in the island of Ireland.’