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Arlene Foster says DUP working hard to get Brexit deal - zero tariff plan wouldn't separate Northern Ireland economically or constitutionally

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) in conversation with DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Ireland Funds gala dinner at the National Building Museum in Washington DC (Brian Lawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) in conversation with DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Ireland Funds gala dinner at the National Building Museum in Washington DC (Brian Lawless/PA)

Arlene Foster has said her party is committed to working hard for a Brexit agreement, but denied the government's tariff plan for a no-deal treated Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The DUP leader acknowledged there were differences, but said that constitutionally and economically Northern Ireland remained within the UK.

"From a constitutional and economic point of view we remain very much within the UK in a no-deal scenario," she told the BBC.  Our difficulty with the backstop is that it separates us out from the rest of the UK.

"We have never said there should be difference in terms of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK but what we can not have is economic and constitutional differences."

There was anger mixed with bemusement on Wednesday when the government announced its tariff plan for day one in the event of a no-deal. While goods would be able to move from the Republic to Northern Ireland without tariffs, there would likely be charges imposed from the other direction. At every other entry point to the UK, there would be tariffs imposed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described it as ironic as it treated Northern Ireland differently, which had been the problem with the agreed position between the EU and the prime minister.

Business groups said the proposals would make Northern Ireland the "wild west of the UK".

After another devastating day in the Commons for Theresa May, with her own cabinet ministers defying the whip to vote against her, there have been reports the DUP could be considering a shift in its position at Westminster.

"We are working very hard with the government to get a deal so we leave the EU with a deal," Arlene Foster said.

"The important thing is Northern Ireland is not left behind. That we leave altogether, that we have that constitutional and economic integrity for the UK.

"And we have long said that Stormont should play a role in this. We wanted Stormont to have a meaningful say in Brexit and we still believe that to be the case."

After the Commons voted to take a no-deal off the table in a non-binding vote, Mrs Foster was resolute it could not be an option.

"If you take it off the table then you weaken your hand and we believe that is wrong. In such a high stakes negotiation you should try and have as strong a hand as you possible can.

"We are still working to get a deal and that is the important issue."

On goods passing into Northern Ireland with no tariff, yet the potential of charges for Northern Ireland business going the other way, Arlene foster said it was a "recognition of the scale of the market".

"We have a very small market in European terms when you look at it compared to the whole of the single market of the EU.

"Northern Ireland to the Republic and the Republic to Northern Ireland is actually a minuscule part of that.

"We have always said if people have a mind to find those ways to deal with theses situations but unfortunately there has not been a willingness to find the way.

"A paper was put forward on technology solutions and trusted traders and small business exceptions which was rejected.

"It is not a huge issue people have made it into a huge issue, let's be sensible let's get a deal and lets make it work for everybody.

"People need to hold their nerve."

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