Belfast Telegraph

Local MPs could decide Northern Ireland's Brexit fate if there’s no Stormont says Arlene Foster

DUP chief Arlene Foster
DUP chief Arlene Foster
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has said that a grand committee of local MPs could decide on Northern Ireland's post-Brexit trading arrangements if the Stormont institutions remain suspended.

The DUP leader last night revealed the plan to hand decision-making power on EU regulatory alignment to Westminster if power-sharing isn't restored.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph she strongly defended Boris Johnson's Brexit proposals, which have been slated by the Ulster Unionists and the TUV.

She accused the DUP's rivals of opportunistically "searching for relevance" with their criticism, and she described business leaders' opposition as "very frustrating".

The Prime Minister's plan gives Stormont the power to decide whether Northern Ireland remains aligned with EU regulations post-Brexit. But the 17-page document does not detail what happens if devolution is suspended.

However, Mrs Foster said: "My understanding is that if there is no Assembly, then it will be up to Westminster to give consent through a mechanism such as a grand committee of Northern Ireland MPs."

Nationalist parties and Dublin are likely to strongly reject such a mechanism as it gives the DUP clear blocking powers.

The party returns 10 of the 11 Northern Ireland MPs who sit in Parliament. Sinn Fein's seven MPs don't take their seats and the party's abstentionist policy is unlikely to change.

When asked for her reaction to the stinging criticism her party has faced from its unionist rivals on its support for Mr Johnson's Brexit proposals, Mrs Foster said: "These people are searching for relevance.

"They always have to find a point of difference from the DUP. We were lambasted for the prospect of no-deal.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney meets NI Secretary Julian Smith
Tanaiste Simon Coveney meets NI Secretary Julian Smith

"Then when we work with the Prime Minister to find a deal, the Ulster Unionist Party in particular can't come out quickly enough to condemn it."

Turning to media coverage of the deal, the DUP leader said: "I find it amusing that the Irish papers are saying that Boris is giving in to Arlene.

"Depending on their political outlook, some of the English papers think it's a reasonable deal and some don't.

"But then I look at my own [media] in Northern Ireland. It's true that you're never a prophet in your own land, but the coverage has been ridiculous. They are not looking at it in a rational way."

Mrs Foster said she found local business leaders' rejection of the deal "very frustrating".

She said: "They said they wanted access to the single market - they get that if there's Assembly consent. Then they say they want access to the customs union as well. It's as if the Brexit referendum never happened."

When asked if letting the Assembly decide on EU regulatory alignment every four years would not lead to political and economic instability, Mrs Foster said: "Do we really think that the Brexit negotiations will go on ad nauseam for the rest of our lives?

"A free trade deal with the EU will mean a lot of these issues fall away."

Mrs Foster was deeply critical of comments by Tanaiste Simon Coveney that one party in Northern Ireland (the DUP) shouldn't have a veto on post-Brexit trading arrangements.

"We haven't had a government in Northern Ireland for two-and-a-half years because of one party," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney said he still believes a Brexit deal can be reached before October 31.

He denied it was "mission impossible" as he left talks at Hillsborough Castle with Secretary of State Julian Smith.

If an agreement wasn't possible, then the Republic would prefer an extension to no deal, he added.

"I believe it is possible to get a deal this month," he said.

"I believe that the British Prime Minister wants to get a deal this month.

"We will certainly work to that timeframe if the British position evolves and we want to be helpful on that. I believe it is possible to do that with goodwill and energy on all sides and I think you'll get that next week."

Mr Johnson's proposals were a "step in the right direction, but there are problems... particularly when it comes to customs", the Tanaiste added.

Mr Smith said that a review of the petition of concern could be "helpful" in addressing fears that the DUP would have a veto if Stormont were to decide post-Brexit arrangements.

Dublin fears that the DUP would be able to block EU regulatory alignment in the Assembly even if a majority of MLAs support it.

Mr Smith said: "I am not going to go into the detail of the negotiation with the EU but the Good Friday Agreement is very clear on consent - it means one party not dominating.

"But I think there are many ways of actually achieving it, and I think we have to really ensure that the parties keep talking and we get them back in the room, that we get them back into Stormont."

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion said: "Any notion that the DUP would have a veto on this island's future arrangements with the EU is a non-runner - it drives a coach and horses through the Good Friday Agreement."

Belfast Telegraph


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