Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Exit agreement that works for all can be the foundation stone for a better tomorrow

By Arlene Foster

Yesterday evening, Nigel and I met with the Prime Minister in Westminster. We reassured her that the DUP will act in the best interests of the United Kingdom. The promotion and protection of the Union is at our core.

We also urged Mrs May to demonstrate her respect for the result of the referendum in 2016 by going back to Brussels to secure a better deal which could command the support of Parliament.

Whilst a forthright and frank discussion, it was useful.

Having already outlined our objections to the withdrawal agreement in previous conversations with the Prime Minister, it is very frustrating that we are still at this point.

With the clock counting down until March 29, too much time has been wasted.

If only the Prime Minister had listened to our principled objections from day one.

When speaking in London on Tuesday, I outlined how disappointed I was that the Government had not even asked the EU to make amendments to the withdrawal agreement.

We had made clear in all discussions that letters of reassurances were not enough to win our support.

I trust the huge and historic rejection of her deal has now fortified the Prime Minister to stand up for the Union and demonstrate to Brussels that they must think again.

On a personal level, I admire the Prime Minister's tenacity.

It is not an easy job, but she must recognise that the Government has made several tactical errors in the negotiating process.

Principally by making concessions to the EU which weaken the UK's negotiating hand as we enter future trade talks with the EU.

The backstop was not the best of both worlds, as some have claimed.

It would have effectively moved the border in Ireland from being along Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal to the Irish Sea.

The backstop would have meant Northern Ireland was treated as a third country by the rest of the United Kingdom.

The agreement did not respect Northern Ireland's constitutional position. Rather, it ran a coach and horses through it.

The very fact that unionists of every hue were united against it speaks volumes.

Immediately after the Government's meaningful vote defeat, I said we would work to give it the space to set out a plan which deals with the flawed backstop.

Indeed, when meeting with MPs from all parties over the last few days, I have emphasised that the DUP's clear preference is to have a deal and an orderly exit from the EU.

We will meet again with the Prime Minster in the coming days and will stand up for the Union.

This week I have been struck with the number of people around Westminster saying the country is in "uncharted territory".

Of course, not very long ago people from around the world looked to London and this nation for innovation.

Indeed, generations before us were the people who charted new waters. We shouldn't fear uncharted waters. We should see them as an opportunity to seize and lay a better foundation for the next generation.

I was not surprised to see the Labour Party table a motion of no-confidence in the Government.

However, this was more to do with the internal power struggles of the Labour Party than it was to do with that party having an alternative programme for government.

This is not a time for political games. We formed the confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party because we wanted to act in the national interest to provide stability and allow a government be formed.

That is still the case. That is why our MPs backed the Government on this occasion.

We will continue to work with the Government and will use our influence to deliver for our hospitals, schools and roads in Northern Ireland while ensuring we can exit the EU with a deal which works for Northern Ireland and Great Britain but also neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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