Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Aiken accuses DUP of U-turn on Boris Brexit deal

Steve Aiken
Steve Aiken

By our political staff

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has questioned how voters can accept the word of the DUP amid a fresh war of words over Boris Johnson's Brexit deal.

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Mr Aiken launched a new attack on what he described as a DUP U-turn on a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, hours after Arlene Foster accused the Prime Minister of breaking his word over his commitment to protect the Union.

As the PM faced fresh questions over trade within the UK after Brexit, Mrs Foster said Government officials had told her there would need to be checks.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the sense of some in the unionist community that Mr Johnson's deal was a "betrayal", she said: "I think it is right for the leadership of unionism in Northern Ireland to try to work with the Prime Minister of the day to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.

"We will always do that. We will continue to do that. I think it says more about the person who broke their word than me and the leadership of the ... Democratic Unionist Party."

But Mr Aiken said Mrs Foster needed to win back voters' trust.

He said: "Her statement begs the question, how can anyone take Arlene Foster at her word again? On December 4, 2017, Arlene Foster stated that the DUP would 'not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom'.

"Yet on October 2, 2019, Arlene Foster warmly welcomed Boris Johnson's proposals for a regulatory border in the Irish Sea by describing them as a 'serious and sensible way forward'.

"Arlene Foster may not have been across every 'jot and tittle' of detail in the past, but the least the Northern Ireland electorate can expect is an explanation of the reason for the DUP U-turn on such a fundamental principle of a regulatory border in the Irish Sea rather than denials which don't bear scrutiny."

DUP Lagan Valley candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr Aiken's attack was "out of step with the vast majority of unionists".

"I want to see unionists working together in opposition to the Prime Minister's deal. Indeed, it was the DUP's 10 votes which blocked that bad deal being forced on us," he said.

"Only a strong team of DUP MPs will have the influence in a hung Parliament. Votes from Northern Ireland MPs could once again be crucial in Parliament following this election."

Speaking on Radio 4, Mrs Foster said the DUP had been told by tax officials before the PM announced his deal that there would be checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She said a lack of free-flowing trade would cause "economic instability in Northern Ireland".

Her comments came after a leaked Treasury report last week concluded customs checks and possibly even tariffs could be required on goods travelling in both directions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

But Mr Johnson said over the weekend that the report was "wrong" and repeated his claim that NI would have "unfettered access" to the UK market.

Yesterday, Tanaiste Simon Covney said it was "clear" that the new deal includes checks.

"The EU has made it clear they want to minimise the impact on goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but at the same time goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will need to have some checks to ensure that the EU knows what is potentially coming into their market through Northern Ireland."

He said goods going from NI to Great Britain "will probably be limited to an export declaration".

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