Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: We cannot back a deal that is not in Northern Ireland's best interests

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

By Arlene Foster

We want to get Northern Ireland moving again. We want Brexit to be delivered and devolution restored. That's what most people want.

The last three years have been tough on our public services but also on relationships. The need in Northern Ireland for all sides to work together is great.

We cannot allow divisions to keep growing.

We regret that a deal has been reached between the UK and the EU that we cannot support. We do not believe it is in the best economic interests of Northern Ireland.

More should have been secured from Europe.

Tomorrow our Members of Parliament will oppose the proposals. We worked intensively with the Government over recent weeks to try and reach a fair and balanced deal.

We were not seeking a perfect deal. It doesn't exist.

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We were seeking a deal which delivered Brexit without erecting barriers to trade.

There was progress.

Dublin and Brussels belatedly reopened Mrs May's deal having rigidly refused to do so.

But the Prime Minister was under pressure and conceded too much by way of agreeing to greater east-west checks than necessary, and settling for a one-sided consent mechanism.

This risks the potential of additional bureaucratic burdens for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the consequential higher prices and potential less choice for consumers.

Additionally, these proposals fundamentally rewrite the Belfast Agreement.

We trade more with Great Britain than we do with the Republic of Ireland, the European Union and the rest of the world combined.

The proposals put forward would see our east-west trade subject to the rules of the EU Customs Union, notwithstanding that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK customs territory.

All goods would be subject to a customs checking regardless of their final destination.

The default position, even for goods travelling from one part of our country to another, is that they are considered under the EU Customs code unless otherwise agreed.

We recognise that only those goods ultimately destined for the Republic of Ireland would be subject to tariffs, but the reality remains that the EU would have a veto on which goods would be exempt and which would not through a Joint Committee.

Details of a waiver scheme have yet to be finalised by the UK Government.

While some progress has been made in recognising the issue of consent, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will have no say on whether we enter these arrangements in the first instance, and the Government has departed from the principle that these arrangements must be subject to the consent of both unionists and nationalists.

We do not consider these arrangements to be in Northern Ireland's longer-term interests and they are clearly without support within unionism.

Tomorrow's vote will only be the start of a long Parliamentary process to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

We will continue to work to shape those outcomes in Northern Ireland's interests and our votes will be critical in that process.

It is only as a result of the strong mandate that we received at the last election that we are able to continue to have a critical role in the House of Commons.

We remain focused on our objective of getting Northern Ireland moving forward again.

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