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First Minister insists DUP is still behind Brexit despite letter to PM

As plane maker admits transferring some of its operations from Northern Ireland to save money, Foster and McGuinness make a special case plea to Downing Street

By Cate McCurry

Published 12/08/2016

Concern: First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Concern: First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

The DUP has hit back at claims the party has performed a U-turn over its stance on Brexit after Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister warning that there could be serious consequences for Northern Ireland by leaving the EU.

Political rivals levelled the accusation against the pro-Brexit DUP leader after the publication of the letter to the Prime Minister, in which she and Mr McGuinness, a Remain advocate, highlighted a series of risks to Northern Ireland.

The content and tone of the letter have been characterised by DUP opponents as pro-Remain.

However, Mrs Foster denied the suggestion she has had a change in heart.

More: New unity of purpose to strike the best deal for NI has to be welcomed

The Ulster Unionist's economy spokesperson Steve Aiken questioned whether the letter represented a DUP 'U-turn' since the June referendum.

But Mrs Foster hit back, describing the UUP's position on Brexit as "comical".

She added: "Poor Steven Aiken has been sent out once again to be the attack dog against the executive and frankly, he comes across more as a Chihuahua."

"Brexit means Brexit and our Prime Minister is very clear about that and I support her in that," she said. "That doesn't mean to say we close our eyes to some of the immediate challenges that are there.

"We have set out those challenges and now we move forward in a positive way."

In the letter, the First and Deputy First Ministers stressed that Brexit could not be allowed to compromise cross-border efforts to tackle organised crime and those opposed to the peace process.

The ministers also said it was critical to the economy that businesses retained their competitiveness and did not incur additional costs. It highlighted the need to retain access to sources of skilled and unskilled labour in the EU.

Mr McGuinness also dismissed the criticism of Mrs Foster as "political point scoring" and added that both parties will adopt a "joined-up" approach to deal with the Brexit implications.

"It's very important, given we were on different sides of the debate in the run in to the referendum to, in the aftermath of the vote, to do the best we can to protect the interests of the people we represent," he said.

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