Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster accuses Irish government of using Brexit to promote united Ireland

By Claire Williamson

DUP leader Arlene Foster has accused the Irish government of using Brexit to promote the idea of a united Ireland - as she said negotiations must move to the next stage.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's Mrs Foster said the Irish government were "using the negotiations to put forward their views on what they believe the island of Ireland should look like in the future".

On Thursday Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told a parliamentary committee that he wants to see a united Ireland in his political lifetime.

She added: “We’ve heard from the foreign minister of the Republic of Ireland just yesterday talking about his aspiration for a united Ireland. He is entitled to have that aspiration but he should not be using European Union negotiations to talk about those issues.

"What he should be talking about are trading relationships moving forward."

When asked if she could imagine applying the rules of the EU Customs Union without being in it Mrs Foster said she "cannot accept any position after Brexit to say that Northern Ireland is any different to any other part of the Union".

She said: "What we don't want to see is any perception that Northern Ireland is in any way different to the rest of the United Kingdom.

"Because that would cause us great difficulties in relation to trade,  because of course the single market that really matters to us is the market of the United Kingdom.

"That's the most important market for Northern Ireland.

When probed on whether the Republic of Ireland was Northern Ireland's main export market.

Mrs Foster said "no, it's not".

She continued: "Well of course external trading partner. But most of our trade is within the United Kingdom. That's the most important issue to remember in all these negotiations. And actually for the Republic of Ireland their most important trading partner is Great Britain so they need to remember that as well."

Mrs Foster said she wanted to see negotiations move onto the next stage.

"I think it's wrong that the Irish Government are saying they will not allow the process to move forward until they have certain things they demand," she said.

"I've always felt it's actually very difficult to have an agreement in relation to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic when we haven't moved to the next stage to talk about trade.

"You can't have it both ways. Leo Varadkar is saying he won't allow the discussion to move to the next stage to talk about trade and these issues until he has a commitment in relation to the Irish border.

"You cannot have it in that fashion, you have to move to the next stage."

On Friday Ireland issued a fresh warning to Theresa May that the deadlock in the Brexit negotiations cannot be broken until it is clear there will be no "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Arriving in Brussels for a gathering of leaders from the EU and former Soviet states, the Prime Minister said it was time to move onto the "next stage" in the negotiations, including talks on a free trade deal.

However Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney insisted EU leaders would not give the green light for the phase two negotiations to begin at their summit in December unless there was progress on the border issue.

He said British assurances on the issue were "aspirational" and that there had to be a "credible roadmap" from the UK setting out how they would ensure there was no return to a hard border.

With the UK committed to withdrawing from customs union and the single market, Mr Coveney said it was difficult to see how they could avoid border checks if it resulted in "regulatory divergence" between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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