Mayor of Derry John Boyle is seen during an interview with Xinhua in Derry, a Northern Ireland border city in the United Kingdom, on March 20, 2019. The "backstop," a mechanism to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, is "vital" for Northern Ireland, said John Boyle, mayor of British city Derry which sits on the border. (Xinhua/Han Yan)
by Xinhua writers Jin Jing, Gu Zhenqiu, Gui Tao
DERRY, Britain, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The "backstop", a mechanism to avoid a hard border between Britain and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit, is "vital" for Northern Ireland, said John Boyle, mayor of British city Derry which sits on the border.
"From my perspective, the backstop is vital in terms of retaining that particular element of the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland," the mayor told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
FREE MOVEMENT ESSENTIAL
According to the Brexit deal, the "backstop" will be applied after Brexit until there is an alternative in place between Britain and the European Union (EU) that prevents a hard border.
Boyle said about 15,000 people or 30 percent of the workforce in Derry, also known as Londonderry, travel daily from Ireland to work and many thousands travel from Ireland to Derry to seek education in colleges and universities.
"The most important solution around Brexit is that we retain that soft border that there always will be a freedom of movement for people, for services, for goods,"he said.
The "backstop" has remained the sticking point in British Prime Minister Theresa May's hard-brokered Brexit deal that had been rejected overwhelmingly twice by the parliament since January. Hardcore Brexiteers fear that the backstop will trap Northern Ireland and thus Britain in the EU, threaten the country's integrity and comprise its right to strike trade deals with third parties.
The mayor noted that during the 2016 referendum, 56 percent of the population of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU while almost 80 percent of voters in his constituency voted for Britain to remain.
"For us, the relationship with the European Union is very, very important, because European structural funds and European financial support has meant so much to our city and also for business. And to break that relationship is something that's very worrying as we go forward," he said.
BACKSTOP VITAL FOR PEACE
Boyle said the backstop is vital in the sense that it is framed in the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of conflicts known as the Troubles between the north and the south that took at least 3,000 lives.
The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, secured the peace in the region, while essentially erasing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
"I think you have to bear in mind the political situation here in Northern Ireland is very different from the political situation anywhere else," he said.
"Without a backstop, there may well be very significant challenges for us and the future, and that is something that many people are concerned about," he said.
The support of the EU was "very, very vital" during the building of peace process, he said.
"We are still in a situation where we require that sort of financial assistance here in Northern Ireland," he added.
The mayor said he would favor a second referendum to break the Brexit impasse and he hoped the result would be different. During the 2016 referendum, people had no idea what they were voting for, he said.
"People didn't know what they were voting for. They didn't know what their future might be, " he said
"It would be my view that if there's a deal that can be cobbled together, put it back to the people and ask the people if they're happy with that deal."
"And I would be fairly sure that there might actually be a different result if they do that," he said.
CHINESE INVESTMENT WELCOMED
Meanwhile, the mayor welcomed Chinese investment in the city which has formed strong bond with Chinese northeastern city of Dalian, noting that delegations from Derry and Dalian have exchanged visits in the last 12 months.
"We're building up a relationship with that very significant city and northern China." he said.
"We expect to see more Chinese people coming here to learn about us, and we expect more of our people to go to China and learn about China. And so we're building those very good relationships."
The mayor said Brexit might present a good opportunity for investment as the region has a highly educated workforce and enjoys a strong connection with Ireland of EU.
"I think there's a great opportunity for Chinese investment in the future, and this region. I think, perhaps Brexit will present a very strong opportunity." he said.