Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Now is time for cool heads and pragmatism - then we can reach a deal

By Arlene Foster

Whilst pressure was building in Brussels, I led a party delegation for another useful meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday. We had a simple and straightforward message urging the Government to stand strong in Brussels and be faithful to the commitments made in the House of Commons during the debate on the Brady Amendment.

We will work with the Government to get a sensible deal and we will hold the Prime Minister to the commitments she has made about securing legally binding changes to the draft withdrawal agreement.

We want to get a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom but also, importantly, one that works for our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland too. But people need to be realistic.

There can only be an agreement if it can command the necessary support in Parliament. I understand that some people are loyal to the draft withdrawal agreement from last year, but they must recognise that it was rejected by Parliament by an historic proportion. It is now time to focus on getting a deal which can work.

The withdrawal agreement is flawed because the backstop would undermine the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK. The backstop is the core of the problem. The Prime Minister must press for it to be dealt with.

Just before our meeting yesterday, Donald Tusk's comments about a "special place in hell" for those of us who campaigned to leave the EU were broadcast. Those comments were premeditated and deliberately provocative. It mirrored the disrespect shown to the Prime Minister previously in Europe.

Donald Tusk and others in Brussels may disagree with the 17.4m UK citizens who voted Leave, but the 2016 referendum result must be respected. To do otherwise would be an affront to democracy. It would be a betrayal of the people.

Rather than cast insults, now is the time to concentrate on genuine diplomacy and solutions.

When I talk with people in our core industries, they want certainty. They want to be clear on what the future north-south and east-west arrangements will be for their trade. They expect their political leaders, whether in London, Dublin or Brussels, to be focused on getting a deal rather than playing political games.

Those who are scaremongering about a hard border, checkpoints, barbed wire and violence are being deliberately misleading.

They can only be serving their own narrow interests. They are exploiting genuine fear amongst people who live on the border and remember the borders of the past.

No one is building border checkpoints or sending troops to the border. The borders of the 70s, 80s and 90s existed to stop terrorism. Brussels, Dublin and London have already stated they will not build a hard border in any circumstance.

Whilst some may seek to exploit the uncertainty for their own political ends, we will focus on getting a better deal which can work for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Judging by recent comments, there are some parties who seem to be secretly hoping for a no-deal exit from the EU.

It is a time for cool heads and pragmatism. If minds are focused, then we can reach a deal.

  • Arlene Foster is leader of the DUP

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