Donaldson: Taoiseach must halt scare tactics and focus on co-operation
The apparent hardening of attitudes within the Irish Government is untimely and unhelpful.
To be clear, the DUP will not countenance or accept a post-Brexit border on the Irish Sea that makes it more difficult to live, work and travel between different parts of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister has already reiterated this in the House of Commons and at Westminster.
The DUP will continue to use the influence of our 10 MPs to ensure that respect for the integrity of the UK remains at the core of the negotiations process.
Anything else would be a fundamental breach of the constitutional arrangements reached in the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements and therefore would be unacceptable.
The result of the general election proved that an overwhelming number of people in Northern Ireland value our place in the Union and the social and economic links that it brings.
Great Britain is the largest marketplace for local goods and services produced in Northern Ireland.
This accounts for 73% of trade flows in and out of Belfast Harbour.
In terms of manufacturing, the 2015 NI Manufacturing Sales and Exports Survey found that sales to GB were worth six times (£8.3bn) more than those to the Republic of Ireland (£1.4bn).
A border on the Irish Sea may give the Republic of Ireland a 'special economic status' within Northern Ireland, but the heavy price would be new barriers to trade in the UK for firms here.
The reality is that the Republic of Ireland and the UK trade over €1bn (£895m) worth of goods and services every week.
Indeed, the fact that Simon Coveney has moved toward this approach will be as worrying for Irish beef producers as it is for Northern Ireland dairy processors.
In 2016, almost 40% of all Irish exports went to the UK, including 49% of all beef.
Some 42% of Irish food and drink exports, worth €4.1bn (£3.6bn), go to Great Britain every year.
Some 55% of Irish exports in the timber and construction sectors and almost half of Irish clean technology and electronics exports are to the UK.
In fact, the Irish Republic is also the UK's fifth largest market, with more than £17bn in British goods and services exported to Ireland in 2012.
Why would anyone want to argue in favour of a customs barrier in the Irish Sea, which would surely prove disastrous for the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The Irish Government has every right to advocate for its economy and citizens in the ongoing talks.
However, it is wrong that the peace process in Northern Ireland should be exploited in this way.
The suggestion that unmanned technology on the border could somehow spark a return to violence is not one that a majority of people on either side of the border can countenance.
Irrespective of what side of the referendum result they stand, it is time for all sides and all political parties to call out this type of scare tactic for what it is.
I would strongly urge the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to rethink his current stance.
He must stop playing to his own audience and approach all of these issues with a new spirit of co-operation.
- Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is DUP MP for Lagan Valley