Belfast Telegraph

We had to protect NI’s place in the UK... and did just that

By Arlene Foster

Northern Ireland is in a stronger position today than it was five days ago. It is now clear in the EU-UK agreement that we will leave the EU along with the rest of the United Kingdom and there will be no border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Our traders will always have unfettered access to the UK market.

The draft text proposed last Monday morning was not acceptable. It did not safeguard Northern Ireland's post-Brexit access to the United Kingdom's single market. Indeed, it was politically, economically and constitutionally unacceptable.

It was not the path to a sensible Brexit for Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom.

It was right and proper that an agreement was not concluded on that basis on Monday.

Following a conversation with the Prime Minster we agreed to work intensively to address our concerns, and indeed those of unionists from throughout the United Kingdom.

The DUP received support from Conservative and Labour MPs, as well as in the Scottish and Welsh administrations. Even the Chief Minister of Gibraltar called me to offer his support.

Our objective was to secure changes that would ensure the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom was not compromised as we exited the EU.

These discussions were detailed and painstakingly slow and concluded in the early hours of Friday morning. We secured six clear commitments that:

1. Northern Ireland will leave the European Union along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

2. Northern Ireland will leave the single market and the customs union along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

3. There will be no customs or trade border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

4. Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom, and the joint UK-EU report at the conclusion of phase one makes clear that in all circumstances the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.

5. There will be no so-called 'special status' for Northern Ireland, as demanded by Sinn Fein.

6. The report makes it clear that the UK remains committed to preserving the integrity of its internal market and Northern Ireland's place within it, as it leaves the EU's internal market and Customs Union.

As we have indicated in the aftermath of yesterday, much work is required and we will continue to work in Westminster during the next round of discussions.

We made the right decision last Monday. It was right not to go with the flow but stand up for Northern Ireland.

By using our mandate, we were able to secure significant improvements. We were only able to do so because almost 300,000 people voted DUP last June.

Last Monday the DUP called a halt because we want to deliver a sensible Brexit which will help the next generation in Northern Ireland. I want our children to be able to gain employment on these shores.

I want to ensure sectors such as agri-food and manufacturing continue to have unfettered access to the United Kingdom single market.

The real work starts now as the UK enters phase two of the Brexit negotiations with the EU27. Our common goal must now be to achieve a comprehensive free trade agreement.

Whilst some reduce their analysis of Brexit to words like 'hard' and 'soft', I will work for everyone, whether they voted leave or remain, to deliver a sensible Brexit that is practical.

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and how we vote on the final deal will depend on its contents. Along with like-minded colleagues across the House of Commons we will ensure there is no backsliding on the promises made about the integrity of the Union. We will also work to ensure that as we exit the European Union we do so in a way that is of greatest benefit to our prosperity and freedom.

Arlene Foster is leader of the DUP

Belfast Telegraph

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