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Brexit: No need to panic, says Arlene Foster after landmark UK vote to quit the EU

By Noel McAdam

People should not panic over the United Kingdom's decision to quit the European Union, First Minister Arlene Foster has insisted.

Despite calls for a second Scottish independence referendum - potentially leading to the break-up of the UK - the DUP leader said she was convinced the vote provides the opportunity to build an even stronger Union.

And she rejected claims that the victory for Brexit injects uncertainty into a raft of areas - the economy and agriculture among them - for an indefinite period ahead. Nonetheless Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon signalled a second referendum could take place in Scotland in the next two-and-a-half years - the likely period for negotiations over the UK's exit.

Ms Sturgeon argued it was "democratically unacceptable" for Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will and pointed out that Northern Ireland had also voted to remain. "The UK-wide vote to leave the EU is one that I deeply regret," she said.

Mrs Foster, however, sought to provide reassurance after a majority of people here voted to stay part of the EU, stressing she was absolutely certain the constitutional position of Northern Ireland had not been undermined and called for a "period of calmness".

"The democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom marks a new and fresh beginning for our country and I believe offers us the opportunity to build a new, hopeful, and more democratic nation," she said.

Like most MLAs the First Minister usually spends most Fridays in her constituency, but the overnight events across the country brought her to Stormont Castle.

And her Press conference was delayed by 40 minutes as she fielded a phone call from David Cameron, who only three hours earlier had announced he would stand down as Prime Minister in a few months.

Praising Mr Cameron, even though he was on the opposite side of the referendum campaign, she welcomed assurances that all the devolved regions will have a role in the forthcoming negotiations to de-couple the UK from the European structures.

Revealing she had also spoken to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, the First Minister added: "Regardless of how we all have voted it is now important that we work together to build on the potential that this historic opportunity provides."

Her response was in sharp contrast to Sinn Fein, the other main party in the Executive. Its president, Gerry Adams, said: "There are real worries this will have an adverse impact on the two economies on this island.

"We could well see the reintroduction of border security controls between the north and south as well as the reintroduction of customs controls.

"The referendum will also adversely impact on equality issues, including equal pay, workers' rights laws and anti-discrimination legislation. It will also reinforce the existing two-tier Europe."

Other parties voiced fears over yesterday's outcome. Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "There is no evidence that the Executive has been planning for this outcome.

"They need to move very quickly to reassure the public that there is a plan, because the full implications for Northern Ireland may not be clear for up to two years."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "Yesterday Northern Ireland voted to remain as part of the European Union. Ireland's rightful place is at the heart of Europe. That was true yesterday, it remains true today."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said Mr Cameron had to resign because "he can't represent a country that voted to leave" and asked: "Can Arlene represent Northern Ireland when it voted Remain?"

But TUV leader Jim Allister commented: "The people, the ordinary people, of this great nation took back control, breaking the destructive shackles of the EU and setting our nation on the path to liberty and prosperity."

DUP Enterprise Minister Simon Hamilton said there was a need for a "period of calmness".

And Agriculture and Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen of the DUP said there had been risks associated with staying in the EU and it was now up to the Executive to defend the interests of farmers and fishermen and others.

Belfast Telegraph


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