Brexit: Maintaining Union more important than any political cause, DUP tells Tories
Arlene Foster has told a Tory meeting in London that the "protection and promotion of the Union" is more important than any other political cause.
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The DUP leader was speaking last night after former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned the UK risked "unravelling" due to Brexit and the "narrow nationalism" of the Conservative and SNP governments.
Mr Brown said that Brexit and rising nationalism meant "we are in a battle for the very existence of Britain" and the Union was more at risk now than at any other time in the past 300 years.
Responding to his warning, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said his party had long highlighted the dangers of pursuing an ideologically pure form of Brexit.
But TUV leader Jim Allister said that the 1990s Labour government, of which Mr Brown was a key member, had done huge damage to the UK's long-term future.
Addressing the Conservative Association in Finchley, Mrs Foster said: "As leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, I have made clear that the protection and promotion of the Union of the United Kingdom is more important than any other political aspiration or cause which we may be focused on at a particular time.
"I would not put forward any cause which I believed would result in a weakening of the Union, but we must always be cautious of how we move forward."
Mrs Foster added: "We should resist the temptation to pit one region against another.
"We should resist the temptation to view the relationship between various parts of our United Kingdom as "give" or "take".
"I firmly believe the United Kingdom is economically better together than apart, but alongside the enrichment of our business life we must look at the cultural, sporting, intellectual and historical contributions which bind us together as a nation."
Noting Northern Ireland's centenary in 2021, the DUP leader said unionism was aware of the threat to the state since its creation.
"We have come through a terrorist campaign aimed at taking Northern Ireland and its people out of the Union, at any cost.
"We will never be shy about identifying a threat to the Union.
"Just as I will not advocate any position that would weaken the Union I would also caution against anyone who would use the future of the Union as a scare tactic to advance some other cause," she said.
"The Union is not a historical feature, but a living and evolving thing.
"It is something that requires us all to work for its maintenance and particularly to put forward a positive pro-Union case."
She added: "Whether you are from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland we must make the case to remain together, for each of us would be the poorer were any one part of the Union to leave it."
Responding to Mr Brown's speech - delivered at an event organised by the Fabian Society and Hope Not Hate at Westminster Cathedral Hall in London - Robin Swann said some of "the worst excesses of nationalism" had been awakened since Brexit.
"Unfortunately we are all too aware that there are some elements of ideologically-driven Brexiteers who would be willing to jettison Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom to achieve that ideologically pure Brexit," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"On the other side there are those within the EU who are intent on making the UK pay the ransom of Northern Ireland's place within the UK because the people dared to express their democratic will to leave the EU."
Mr Swann continued: "Brexit can be delivered in a way which doesn't cause long-term damage to relationships between the United Kingdom and our neighbours in the EU, but it will involve compromise from both sides.
"The Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is more than the sum of all its parts and any future Prime Minister should put the integrity of that Union above all else in political negotiations."
Responding to Mr Brown's warning, Jim Allister (left) said nothing had done more to damage the UK's long-term future than the Labour government of the 1990s. "They fed the demands for Scottish independence by setting up the Scottish Parliament," the TUV leader said.
"They set Northern Ireland on the road to Irish unification with the Belfast Agreement which only ever allows the people to be asked by way of referendum if they are now ready to leave the UK and once the question is put once it is repeated every seven years.
"The decisions of Labour when in power 20 years ago have done far more to feed separatism than Brexit so Mr Brown would do well to reflect on the legacy of his own government.
"It is also telling that the Brexit Party finished second in the EU election in Scotland while Labour finished a lowly fifth and failed to secure any representation."