Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Any Brexit deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU 'will not have DUP consent'

DUP Leader Arlene Foster has issued a warning to the EU and Boris Johnson (PA)
DUP Leader Arlene Foster has issued a warning to the EU and Boris Johnson (PA)

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said any Brexit deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the European Union "will not have our consent".

Her comments come after a positive meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, following which the pair said they could "see a pathway" to a potential deal.

Now negotiations between the UK and the EU have entered the "tunnel phase" of intensive and secretive talks in a bid to secure an agreement.

After days of signals that the talks were close to collapse, there is now speculation of a UK compromise on the issue of the backstop, designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In a statement on Friday, Arlene Foster said that, while negotiations are a matter for the UK Government, the DUP will "exercise our considerable influence" to "stand up for Northern Ireland" and will only ever support arrangements that are in province's long-term economic and constitutional interests.

"We are regularly in touch with the Prime Minister and as a result he is aware of our views. The United Kingdom EU referendum result delivered the people’s verdict and it must be delivered. To do otherwise would be anti-democratic," she said.

"We have been consistent in our opposition to the backstop, whether UK or NI only, and anything that traps Northern Ireland in the European Union, whether Single Market or Customs Union, as the rest of the United Kingdom leaves will not have our support. The Prime Minister is very mindful of that.

"We have argued that it is important to secure a balanced and sensible deal as we leave the European Union.  Those who know anything about Northern Ireland will appreciate that these issues will only work with the support of the unionist as well as the nationalist community."

Mrs Foster's statement comes after her party gave their backing to the Prime Minister's Brexit proposals last week, which would effectively see a border erected down the Irish Sea and keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market.

Such regulations would only be put in place with Stormont's consent, potentially giving parties veto on the issue.

The proposals, however, were rejected by all other Norther Ireland parties and the EU.

Following Thursday's meeting with Leo Varadkar, Boris Johnson refused to say what concessions he had made, only that “under no circumstances” would he agree to a deal that damages the ability of all of the UK to “take full advantage” of Brexit.

Arlene Foster said the DUP, back in December 2017, insisted that consent was required in circumstances where Northern Ireland would remain aligned to parts of the Single Market.

"Paragraph 50 of the Joint Report between the United Kingdom and the European Union outlined the requirement for such consent," she said.

"We have held steadfast to that position whilst recognising the need to be flexible and look at Northern Ireland specific solutions achieved with the support and consent of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

"In order to secure a sensible deal for everyone it is important that the European Union understand that to maximise the prospects of agreement there will need to be a clear acceptance that the economic and constitutional integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom will have to be respected as we leave."

She said the DUP remains "very relevant" in the parliamentary arithmetic and will judge any outcome reached by Mr Johnson against the position they have set out.

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