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Brexit: No sense in isolating Northern Ireland from UK - DUP's Foster again rejects border in Irish sea

By Jonathan Bell

Arlene Foster has said it makes no sense to move the border to the Irish Sea and "isolate" Northern Ireland from its biggest market, the UK.

The DUP was speaking to the party's Lagan Valley Association on Saturday evening. It comes a momentum looks to be building toward a resolution on the issue of the border in the Brexit talks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave an upbeat assessment of the talks, saying a resolution on Irish issues "looked good" hinting there would be special arrangements in place to ensure a frictionless border on the island.

Arlene Foster said: “Some time ago I set out our Party’s desire to see not a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit but a sensible Brexit. A Brexit that works for Northern Ireland and for the whole of the United Kingdom.

"A sensible Brexit means that we want to see the continuation of the Common Travel Area. A sensible Brexit means that we recognise our responsibility to meet our financial obligations. A sensible Brexit means that we want to avoid a cliff edge for businesses by having a strictly time limited implementation period.

A sensible Brexit means that we value the contribution that EU migrants make to our economy and society and that we will support a new border policy that is strong but practical.

"And a sensible Brexit will involve a comprehensive trade and customs agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union."

It makes no sense whatsoever to move the border to the Irish Sea and make trade with our biggest market more difficult.

On Friday the EU said the entire Brexit talks process was in the hands of the Irish government and they could veto a move to the second phase of trade talks if it felt there was no sufficient progress or assurances given on the border. However, both the Taoiseach and Tanaiste have said they have no intention of using the veto.

"What is not sensible is proposing isolating Northern Ireland from its largest market," Arlene Foster continued.

"I do not deny that the Republic of Ireland is an important market for many Northern Ireland exporters.  But why do some seem so oblivious to the reality that our most important trading partner is Great Britain?

"They forget – or do they choose to ignore – the fact that 72% of trade from Belfast Harbour is with Great Britain. That almost two thirds of local agri-food produce goes to elsewhere in the UK.

"And that Northern Ireland manufacturing sales to Great Britain are worth six times more than those to the Irish Republic.

"It makes no sense whatsoever to move the border to the Irish Sea and make trade with our biggest market – the rest of the United Kingdom – more difficult."

The DUP leader wrote to the EU27 block stating how she wanted close links to the Republic maintained but would not compromise on access to the UK market. Senior DUP MPs have said they could not support Theresa May's government if concessions were made to Dublin as part of any Brexit deal.

Arlene Foster added: "Those who have allowed this to become some sort of zero sum game, framing it as a mutually exclusive choice between maintaining the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK and continued close cross-border relations, do us all a great disservice.  It is up to all of us who want to see a sensible Brexit to face up to the challenge and craft a solution that works for Northern Ireland.”

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