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Arlene Foster: The DUP will not countenance a new border in the Irish Sea

By Arlene Foster

In the past 48 hours there has been much speculation around a possible deal between the UK Government and Brussels on how to prevent a hard border after Brexit.

As the key EU summit on December 14-15 approaches, the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was always going to attract greater attention, and rightly so.

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union as one nation and we are leaving as one nation.

The Government have a clear understanding that the DUP will not countenance any arrangement that could lead to a new border being created in the Irish Sea.

Indeed, we do recognise that the Prime Minister has been categorical on this matter in the House of Commons.

Some 72% of trade in and out of Belfast Harbour is with Great Britain.

Almost two-thirds of local agri-food produce is sold within the UK and Northern Ireland manufacturing sales to GB are worth six times as much as those to the Republic of Ireland.

As I indicated at our conference last weekend, we want to see a sensible Brexit and we have reiterated that while United Kingdom/Republic of Ireland arrangements may be necessary as we exit the EU, there can be no arrangements agreed that compromise the integrity of the UK single market and place barriers, real or perceived, to the free movement of goods, services and capital between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

We support the continuance of the Common Travel Area for the movement of people between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Our place in the UK single market is non-negotiable. Moves away from UK market rules would pose unwelcome questions on the integrity of our products among GB retailers.

The reality is that a new era of co-operation will not be achieved by exiling key local sectors from their primary marketplace. That is not to say we do not prioritise retaining the trade and other links we hold with our closest neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and we continue to take the view that we do not want to see barriers to trade and co-operation with the Republic.

Those who say the United Kingdom's integrity and vibrant cross-border relations post-Brexit are mutually exclusive are wrong.

Earlier this week in Brussels the former director of the World Customs Organisation said a 'smart border' concept - involving new technologies, online customs systems and trusted traders schemes - could provide a seamless solution under any political outcome. He stressed that this template could be generic to all UK borders with the EU.

In practical terms, complete solutions to the border cannot be secured until the terms of the future UK-EU trading relationship are known.

For our part, we will continue to work with the Government on the details of negotiations as they progress and we are determined to secure an outcome that works for all parts of the United Kingdom while recognising the reality of our geography and history.

Arlene Foster is leader of the DUP

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