Belfast Telegraph

DUP has 'no regets' over backing Brexit says Arlene Foster despite PM's jettisoning of party

DUP leader Arlene Foster gets the podium ready at her party’s conference
DUP leader Arlene Foster gets the podium ready at her party’s conference

By David Young

Arlene Foster has said the DUP has no regrets about backing Brexit, insisting it can still be delivered in a way that protects the Union.

She said her party had yet to decide whether to back the Prime Minister's call for a general election but she did express concern at his proposed timeline, suggesting it might not provide sufficient time to scrutinise his Brexit deal in Parliament.

Mrs Foster was speaking ahead of the DUP's annual conference in Belfast this weekend, an event at which Boris Johnson last year pledged to delegates that he would never create economic borders in the Irish Sea.

Yesterday the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA accused Mr Johnson of "walking away" from that commitment, given the checks envisaged in his new deal struck with the EU.

But she rejected the suggestion that the DUP had been naive to take his November 2018 pledge at face value.

"I think it's for him to reflect on his words because we are not the people who have changed our position, it's him who has changed his position," she said.

"We always have and we try to have outside speakers come along and engage with our people - he made commitments on our stage last year that he has clearly walked away from, so it's more a case he needs to reflect on what he said."

Mrs Foster declined to state whether she now trusted the Prime Minister.

"We trust ourselves and we trust ourselves to do what's right for Northern Ireland," she said when asked.

"When we saw the outline of what he'd agreed, we knew that it was not going to be a good deal for Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster was asked whether she regretted backing Brexit in 2016, given the prospect that Northern Ireland could leave the EU on different terms from the rest of the UK.

"I don't regret the party's position on Brexit, we campaigned for Brexit, we believed in Brexit," she said.

"We still believe in Brexit because we believe it's right to leave the European Union institutions. And, you know, believing in Brexit and strongly believing in the Union are not mutually exclusive.

"We want to see a Brexit deal delivered that protects the Union because for me the most important single market is the United Kingdom single market.

"And the difficulty with where we are at the moment with this deal is the fact that it breaks up the UK single market and leaves us outside of it."

In a wide-ranging interview, Mrs Foster blamed Leo Varadkar for setting a precedent that has led some loyalists to contemplate violent resistance to the Brexit deal.

She pointed to the Taoiseach's warnings about the potential for increased dissident republican violence if Brexit led to a hardening of the Irish border, calling his comments "wrong".

"Of course any violence or threat of violence should not be adhered to," she said. "When Leo Varadkar talked about the possibility of dissident violence along the border, if there were any border infrastructure, I thought that was wrong. I said so at the time. Because you can't use the threat of violence to achieve something.

"And that unfortunately now has set a precedent where people from loyalism are looking at that, and they're saying 'hold on a second, he used that in that particular way, so now we're going to use that'.

"That's wrong. That is not the way forward."

Mrs Foster also expressed confidence she will be able to weather any criticism that may come her way in a public inquiry report on Stormont's botched green energy scheme, the Renewable Heat Incentive.

She said she hoped the publication would bring closure to the affair.

"As regard to my position, I'm confident that we will be able to deal with all of those issues when it comes out," she said.

Mrs Foster also said the DUP is consulting with Attorney General John Larkin on a potential legal challenge against the decriminalisation of abortion.

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