First Minister Arlene Foster: 'Our nation is safe and Northern Ireland will be front and centre of Brexit negotiations'
DUP leader rejects Sinn Fein call for border poll as opportunistic
First Minister Arlene Foster has said we have nothing to fear from Sinn Fein calls for a border poll and said she will work to put Northern Ireland front and centre of negotiations for a British exit from the EU.
The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, however, in Northern Ireland the majority voted Remain.
The DUP was the only major party in Northern Ireland that backed the Leave campaign.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, the First Minister said: "I think this is a good result for the United Kingdom. Our nation is safe.
"Our nation has made a clear definition as to where they want to go. They backed hope, they backed aspiration, they backed the future potential of the United Kingdom and I am very pleased with the result.
"We always knew that it was going to be difficult to get a Leave vote in Northern Ireland given that four out of five main parties were advocating a Remain vote and actually it was only my own party that was advocating a Leave vote."
She continued: "I am very pleased this morning and as I look across Northern Ireland, there has been some very significant vote and that was despite all of the scaremongering that we heard.
"I am very proud of the Northern Ireland people and I look forward to the negotiations that are going to take place."
Following the announcement on Friday morning, Sinn Fein called for a referendum on whether Northern Ireland should leave the United Kingdom and unite the Irish Republic as they believe "the north is going to be dragged out on the tails of a vote in England".
The DUP leader responded: "Martin McGuinness calls periodically for a border poll. If you look at the test for a border poll, that test has not been satisfied and therefore, the Secretary of State won’t call a border poll. We have nothing to fear.
"He is being opportunistic and there is no way, that even if there were a border poll - and I don’t want to have one - that it would be in favour of a united Ireland.
"People have very clearly over the last number of years have moved to a position where they are quite content with the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom."
There had been uncertainty surrounding the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic but the First Minister said that they will maintain a special relationship despite the vote to leave.
"I think if you look at the destination of exports from Ireland, it is overwhelmingly to the United Kingdom and to Great Britain in particular so they will want to have a strong relationship with their nearest neighbour, as indeed do we. Those discussions will take place with the Republic of Ireland very soon, I’m sure," she said.
There have also been concerns that Scotland may hold a second Independence referendum as Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.
Ms Foster said she was not concerned for the future of the UK following a Brexit: "I think in terms of the United Kingdom, the four constituent parts are stronger together and I think you will find in Scotland that there are a lot of people looking at the claims made by the Scottish National Party before the last referendum, that those claims did not come to fruition."
She said that she wants to make sure that Northern Ireland is at the "front and centre of negotiations" as the UK government starts to look towards what the vote will mean.
"I as First Minister of Northern Ireland will very much be looking to be a part of anything that goes on now in terms of the United Kingdom’s negotiations and their future relationship with the European Union and I expect to play a full part in relation to that.
"This is going to take a long period of time to work through and my commitment to the Northern Ireland people this morning is that we will be front and central in relation to those negotiations."
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the First Minister said:
"The result of the referendum is both welcome and momentous for the United Kingdom as a whole and Northern Ireland in particular. We look forward to working together for the best interests of Northern Ireland within our United Kingdom.
"Democratic Unionists campaigned to leave the European Union. 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.
"As the leader of Unionism I believe we made the right decision to recommend a leave vote. Many did not predict that 44% of our electorate would vote to leave, especially after the torrent of fear which was directed at us. I know there are those who say that a majority of people in NI voted to remain and while that was always likely to be the case we cannot and must not close our eyes to the fact that this is a UK-wide decision and every vote is equal in the United Kingdom.
"This has been the biggest exercise of democratic participation for many years and follows a long and at time passionate debate. I am proud of the fact that this decision was taken by the people and we must all respect the democratically expressed wishes in what was a UK wide referendum.
"Over the coming weeks, and months I will work for stability and the best possible exit negotiation to ensure the people of Northern Ireland get the deal they deserve. As an Executive we will continue to work together in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure stability in Northern Ireland.
"Throughout the referendum campaign I pledged that in the event of a leave vote I would work with the national government and I have already spoken with the Secretary of State. I welcome the comments from the Prime Minister this morning that he and his colleagues will work with all the devolved regions of the United Kingdom to implement the will of the people and to work together on the forthcoming negotiations.
"The negotiated exit from the European Union will happen over a considerable period of years. 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.
"Finally, I want to pay tribute to the Prime Minister David Cameron who I have spoken with this morning. Despite our differences on the question of the UK’s membership of the EU I have the utmost respect for what he has done for our nation. I have enjoyed a good working relationship with him and I want to thank him for his contribution as Prime Minister. Politics is a very tough trade but above all else we serve at the pleasure of the people.”