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Brexit: Arlene Foster says 'there'll be no 'Trump' border in Ireland

First Minister wants DUP to work closely with UK Government on Brexit, she tells Tory fringe, while McGuinness says province will be 'collateral damage' in turmoil

By Noel McAdam

Published 04/10/2016

First Minister: Arlene Foster
First Minister: Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster today warned against a "Donald Trump-style" border with the Irish Republic as a result of the Brexit negotiations.

In a speech at the Conservative Party conference, the First Minister said not even the Troubles had led to anything as extreme as the controversial plan for a wall between Texas and Mexico floated by the US Presidential candidate.

"I do not wish to see a hard border with the Republic of Ireland," the DUP leader said.

"If we didn't have a Donald Trump-style wall during the Troubles, I think that it's very hard to make that case now!"

And in the wake of the Prime Minister announcing that the Government will begin Brexit negotiations next year, Mrs Foster said she wanted to see the province's eight DUP MPs working as closely as possible with the Government "in the best interests of the country as a whole".

"It is even more important that the integrity of the United Kingdom is maintained in any new arrangements. We won't agree on everything, but I do believe we share many of the same core values," she said.

During the breakfast-time event she also backed moves towards new Assembly structures at Stormont - if the current system for an Opposition proves a success.

The First Minister said if the new arrangement was successful in the longer term, there would be a strong case for a reform of the Assembly structures.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, Mrs Foster commented: "Though the 'official' Opposition has been taking its time to get up and running, government is undoubtedly being forced to up its game and perform better under the new arrangements.

"If this new Opposition arrangement does prove to be a success in the longer term I believe that there would be a strong case for reforming our structures to make it the norm rather than the exception.

"For Northern Ireland, this has been a good 12 months. A year ago the political institutions were in crisis, with a threat to devolution itself. Today we have entered a new and, I believe, better era in politics - one where our governmental structures are beginning to normalise and real progress is being made."

Referring to last November's Fresh Start Agreement as a turning point for devolution, she said it resolved the welfare reform crisis, stabilised finances, paved the way for a 12.5% corporation tax rate, and kickstarted measures "which I hope will lead to the end of paramilitary activity". Brexit also featured at question time in the Assembly yesterday when Mrs Foster told people to "calm down" after the emergence of a document last week in which Stormont civil servants listed more than 20 ways Brexit could damage Northern Ireland's economy.

Questions were raised over why the report, compiled by officials in the old Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, had been kept under wraps during the referendum campaign.

Yesterday, Mrs Foster revealed the document was commissioned by the head of the Civil Service, Dr Malcolm McKibben, rather than her or Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

"Everybody needs to calm down about this so-called Brexit paper," she said, adding that she had spoken to Dr McKibben about it earlier yesterday.

"He had been on leave for a time. When I asked him why it had not been brought to my attention, he said: 'Well, I wouldn't have brought it to your attention, as it was not completed'," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness warned that Westminster was on a "collision course" with the EU over Brexit. "This is more about the internal division within the British Tory party, which clearly has no clue whatsoever about what it is facing," he said.

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