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It is time for sensible solutions and voices in Northern Ireland: Foster

By Lauren Harte

DUP leader Arlene Foster last night called for sensible solutions to the ongoing Brexit impasse and fired a broadside at those using a potential return to violence as a bargaining chip.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster stressed that rather than stirring up tensions, all sides should strive to ‘seek an outcome that works for NI, the UK and the EU.’

She also urged: “Those who continue to use the Troubles to advance their political arguments about Brexit should step back and consider their actions.

“Those of us who lived on the border in those days have very little tolerance for such arguments. There was never any justification for violence.

“Lofty speeches about a return to the borders of the 70s and 80s are not based on fact and only serve to add succour to men of violence.”

She added that placing any new barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain “would be catastrophic for our economy” after it was reported that Theresa May had secured a deal that will see the UK remain within a customs union with the EU.

The Sunday Times claimed that preparations for a deal are more advanced than had been anticipated, with a detailed document in the works.

Since Brexit talks began the EU has insisted on an agreement which would see Northern Ireland remain part of the customs union and the single market in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic in the event of no deal.

Under the latest proposals, the EU would write a UK-wide backstop into the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement, meaning a backstop solely for Northern Ireland would not be needed.

Responding to the report, Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph: “We are seeking an outcome that works for NI, the UK and the EU.

“That would be a sensible deal. 

“An outcome that effectively redraws the border and moves it to the Irish Sea is not sensible for the Northern Ireland economy or in a political sense, for the Union.

“The Prime Minister knows that we have had one red line in this Brexit process. We will not tolerate the economic or constitutional integrity of the UK being undermined by any deal.”

Mrs Foster said that “72% of all goods leaving Belfast Port are destined for GB and 75% of goods coming into NI are from GB. To place any new barriers between NI and GB would be catastrophic for our economy”.

“We are living through incredibly historic days. The decisions made in the next few weeks will dictate the kind of UK our grandchildren experience,” she continued.

Mrs Foster (left) added: “I am heartened by the support throughout the UK for our position. Unionists in England, Scotland and Wales recognise that placing a trade border between NI and GB would totally undermine the integrity of the UK single market.”

Former Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire, appearing on Sky’s Ridge On Sunday, was asked if a deal was close.

He said negotiations are still very firmly continuing, adding: “We are 95% of the way there in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Obviously still having this issue in relation to the insurance arrangements for Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that very much remains our focus and attention in getting that deal.”

A Downing Street spokeswoman added: “The Prime Minister is clear we are leaving the customs union.

“We are making good progress on the future relationship, and 95% of the Withdrawal Agreement has been settled. Negotiations are ongoing.”

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the article was written with a British audience in mind and such “running commentary” isn’t helpful.

“The EU27 has been united through the Brexit process. The UK has given written commitments last December and March that the Withdrawal Agreement will give a legal guarantee of no return to a hard border in Ireland in any circumstance — this is the backstop,” Mr Coveney said.“In March the UK agreed this backstop will apply ‘unless and until’ a close future relationship eliminates any need for border infrastructure or related checks and controls.

“We want the EU and UK to get to negotiating that close future deal but the UK must first deliver on the commitments of leaving.

“The EU support to Ireland has been and remains unwavering. The negotiators are working hard and a running commentary isn’t helpful.

“However Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier, Jean Claude Juncker and indeed Theresa May herself have all said there will not be a deal without a legal guarantee of no hard border in Ireland.

“We hope a deal can be done but we’re not there yet.”

The Sunday Times article also stated that if an all-UK customs arrangement is written into the Withdrawal Agreement, the backstop proposed by the EU, which treats Northern Ireland as different from the rest of the UK, will no longer be required.

It also claimed Theresa May is on course to securing a Canada-style trade deal.

A senior Whitehall source told the paper: “The PM will be able to say there’s no more backstop, we’ve got rid of that — success. There’s an exit mechanism — success.

“And you’ve got Canada — success. The small print is that Ireland is f*****.”

Belfast Telegraph

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