Weak DUP vote will be seen as a rejection of Brexit, says Foster
Arlene Foster has warned that a weak DUP vote in next week's European elections will be interpreted by London and Brussels as a "no vote for Brexit".
The DUP leader was speaking at the launch of her party's European election manifesto at Seaview football stadium - the home of Crusaders FC - in north Belfast yesterday.
Mrs Foster, who is urging voters to return Diane Dodds as MEP, also claimed democracy would be placed at risk if a second Brexit referendum takes place.
Her comments come in response to a suggestion made by senior Labour politicians yesterday that any Brexit deal struck during the ongoing cross-party talks would have to be put to a public vote in a confirmatory referendum.
However, Mrs Foster rejected the suggestion, insisting the Leave outcome from the 2016 referendum must be respected.
"To do anything other than implement the will of the people will damage democracy," she insisted. "I am opposed to a second referendum but a weak DUP vote will be interpreted in London and Brussels as a vote for a no-Brexit.
"Whilst we have been able to help defeat the Withdrawal Agreement in Westminster, we need this election to strengthen our hand."
The manifesto launch also saw Mrs Foster accuse Theresa May - whose government is propped up by 10 DUP MPs in a confidence-and-supply agreement - of failing to grasp the possibilities offered by Brexit.
"We have a Prime Minister frankly who doesn't have the vision for the UK post-Brexit that we all want to see. We want to see a UK that is strong post-Brexit and has a close relationship with Europe," insisted Mrs Foster.
"What people want to see is democracy being respected. Unfortunately it hasn't been respected and we have a Remain parliament (that) has not been able to deliver on Brexit in the way it should have been delivered upon."
She added: "As we travel the laneways and villages of Ulster we will be telling every door, don't let Michel Barnier or Jean Claude Junker misrepresent your vote.
"It's time to tell them again. It's time to Vote Dodds 1 and defend the Union and deliver Brexit."
Mrs Dodds echoed her leader's position, insisting the stakes are high for the election on May 23.
"We should respect democracy and we should deliver on Brexit and that should be delivered in any event - whatever or whomever the Prime Minister happens to be," she explained.
"The people spoke in 2016, the will of the people was clear. We must fight this election and secure a mandate which is heard loudly in Brussels and London. The stakes could not be higher."
While the DUP and Sinn Fein are heavily tipped to retain two of Northern Ireland's three European seats, the outcome of the third seat - currently held by the retiring UUP politician Jim Nicholson - is less certain.
Mrs Foster is urging voters to ensure the status quo is maintained by giving Mrs Dodds their first preference vote, and then for other unionists down the ballot.
However, she would not be drawn on indicating a preference between the TUV's Jim Allister or the UUP candidate, Danny Kennedy.
"We want to send a very clear message: to defend the Union and deliver on Brexit. That's our slogan, we stand by it.
"The first priority is to defend the Union and we are a unionist party, the clue's in our title as I always say, so we want to see two unionists returned," she explained.
Mrs Foster said that London and Brussels needed to know that Northern Ireland must not be treated differently from the rest of the UK.
"We must all leave on the same terms," she said.
"It was a UK decision and we will continue to reject any trade barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom."
She acknowledged that not all unionists are Brexit supporters but called for democracy to prevail.
"Whilst some unionists will have voted Remain in 2016, I have spoken with dozens who now recognise that whatever their preference, the democratic wishes of the people must be implemented," added Mrs Foster.
Mrs Dodds stressed that all Brexit supporters need to "seize the moment" and urged the 350,000 people in Northern Ireland who voted to leave the EU in 2016 to back her next Thursday.
"The battle will be between those who want democracy respected versus those who want to ignore the will of the people," she insisted.
"The 2016 referendum was not an English vote, a Scottish vote, a Welsh vote or a Northern Ireland vote. It was a British vote - a national vote - to leave the EU together and it must be honoured."