Belfast Telegraph

Brexit deadline must be met, insists DUP's Foster as she declines to back Johnson or Hunt

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Boris Johnson
Jeremy Hunt on the campaign trail yesterday

By Lewis Pennock

DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday said it is "very important" the UK leaves the EU by October 31, but she refused to back either candidate to become the next Prime Minister.

She said the Government must keep a no-deal Brexit on the table and claimed repeated extensions are fuelling public discontent.

Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson has pledged to leave by the Halloween deadline, but his rival for Number 10 Jeremy Hunt has left the option of an extension open.

Mrs Foster told the Policy Exchange think tank: "It's very important that we leave on October 31.

"Of course, we should have left by now and I think a lot of the discontent within the United Kingdom is caused by the fact that we haven't left, and we've seen that in the European election results."

She refused to back either Mr Johnson or Mr Hunt as next Tory leader at the event in London, but said she has a "good relationship" with both.

"That is not a matter for me, thankfully," said Mrs Foster, referring to the leadership contest.

But she added she will "look forward" to working with either and has conversations with both "all the time".

The event panel, which focused on the backstop, also included Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis and Sir Graham Brady, the former chair of the Conservative 1922 Committee.

Dr Ray Bassett, who was part of the Irish Government's Good Friday Agreement talks team, and Lord Bew of Donegore were also on the panel.

Mrs Foster said outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May broke "many promises" around the backstop, which has become a focal point of Britain's exit from the EU.

She said unionists "cannot allow a backstop which will damage the Union economically".

She added: "I think there is an opportunity for our new Prime Minister to deal proactively with the issue and I am heartened by what I have heard from both Boris and Jeremy in relation to these issues."

No-deal must be kept "on the table", Mrs Foster insisted.

She added it is a "great falsehood" that "the backstop is required by the Belfast Agreement".

She said: "Of course it's probably, to my mind, the greatest lie told in politics today."

Meanwhile, the proposers of high-tech solutions to avoid Irish border checks after Brexit, backed by Mr Johnson, have admitted they have no idea what they would cost.

Quizzed by MPs, the head of the Prosperity UK think tank denied the annual bill would be £13bn, but acknowledged: "We don't have a figure."

The stance was criticised by one MP on the Commons Northern Ireland committee who told trade lobbyist Shanker Singham: "Somewhere you must have made a calculation of the cost?"

Mr Johnson has made so-called "alternative arrangements" to solve the border controversy a key plank of his promise to renegotiate Mrs May's divorce deal.

Also, the Republic's top police officer says additional forces will be needed to patrol the border in the event of a hard Brexit.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told a Dail committee that any police response will depend on "what kind of Brexit we get".

He said: "It will depend on the threats that arise. We are a community-based policing organisation, threats will arise, threats that we cope with at the moment and have coped with in the past."

He added that in the event of a hard border, organised crime will increase.

He said: "The issue of organised crime, as tariffs diverge, there will be more opportunities then to smuggle over the border.

"Also the threat from terrorism, we have to see, we don't know the severity of the issues that may arise.

"Even just looking at the situation (at the border) at the moment, with the ATM robberies, smuggling, and other crime, it is prudent for us to make sure the border is well resourced.

"We're moving resources there, with armed support and roads policing and general strengths of that area."

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