Belfast Telegraph

DUP leader Foster: We want a seat at Brexit talks table

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has said "lessons have been learned" from the shambolic breakdown of Brexit talks in Brussels - and the DUP now wants to be directly involved in future negotiations.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last night, the DUP leader said that while she counted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a friend, she was puzzled by the tone of his approach, which seemed closer to Sinn Fein than traditional Fine Gael.

Mrs Foster insisted her party wanted strong North-South relations and trade.

It was involved in ongoing dialogue with Downing Street over the future text Theresa May would offer to EU chiefs, she said.

The DUP leader said she planned to speak to the Prime Minister today or later in the week but warned that her party would "not be rushed" on agreeing a text as it was more important to get it right.

Asked what had gone so dramatically wrong on Monday in Brussels, Mrs Foster said: "If we had been involved directly in the process, in the room, I don't think we would have arrived at such a stark situation.

"I think there are lessons to be learned from that.

"If civil servants are working through particular scenarios and are looking at texts, I do think that when they're talking about Northern Ireland it would be useful if we were directly involved.

"I'm not demanding that we have to be in the room for everything but there is a need for us to be directly involved."

Mrs Foster said was a "big shock" to her party when it saw the text of the deal the British Government had agreed with the EU on Monday.

The DUP was shown the text "late morning" despite having asked to see a draft for five weeks.

"I am a great believer in seeing things on paper rather than being briefed about things," Mrs Foster said.

She claimed the London negotiating team had indicated to her that it was the Irish Government which had stopped the DUP from being shown a copy of the text.

Dublin has rejected her claim and said it "had no involvement in any decision on which documents should go to the DUP".

Mrs Foster said she didn't want to get into a "he said, she said" situation over the matter.

Once the DUP saw the deal text, it knew it was unacceptable because the party would never agree to a border developing in the Irish Sea.

When asked if Theresa May was on a solo run with the proposal or was acting with the support of cabinet ministers, Mrs Foster said: "I don't know the answer to that.

"All I know is that they were very aware of where we were in relation to this.

"The Union doesn't just matter to the DUP, it matters to a lot of backbench Tories as well."

She had a 25-minute conversation with Mrs May on Monday was an "open and honest" one in which she told the Prime Minister that the situation could have been handled very differently.

Mrs Foster said she would speak to Mrs May again today or later in the week but had no immediate plans to travel to London for a face-to-face meeting with her.

She said her Westminster colleagues were in constant contact with the Government.

"What's important is to focus on moving the situation forward," she stated.

"We're trying to find a solution.

"We need to get moving to phase two so we can get into the detail of the trade negotiations."

The DUP leader insisted her party supported strong North-South trade and didn't want a hard border.

"Let's get into the detail so we end up with a solution that works for everybody," she added.

The DUP is not opposed to regulatory alignment in certain areas and she pointed to the single energy market that Northern Ireland has with the Republic.

Mrs Foster expressed disappointment at the "change in tone" from the Irish Government recently.

"I know Leo. I have said to him in the past that I count him as a friend," she said.

"But I don't understand the tone and approach that his government are taking towards Northern Ireland because it's not the tone and approach that Enda Kenny or Charlie Flanagan were taking."

She claimed Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin had struck a much more conciliatory tone yesterday.

"I am trying to understand why Fine Gael has taken up this approach," said Mrs Foster.

"It's almost as if they are taking a Sinn Fein line on all of this.

"One has to ask the question is that because there is an election coming, probably in the new year.

"Domestic issues are bleeding over into Brexit."

Belfast Telegraph

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