Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Time for EU to make good on the promise of using its 'best endeavours' to do sensible deal

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

By Arlene Foster

The fact that Parliament has now spelt out clearly what it wants to secure from negotiations on the withdrawal agreement seems to have bizarrely reinforced the idea from some that no alternative to the unacceptable backstop is possible.

Such a claim not only flies in the face of history, but also contradicts the stated position of the European Union.

The question is not whether alternatives exist or could be agreed, but when the negotiations take place.

For those who say the EU cannot reopen a treaty, then we only need look south of the border to dispel that myth.

Following rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, the then Irish Government sought and received legally binding guarantees on Irish sovereignty. Those guarantees were only made available by the other EU 27 member states after the treaty was rejected.

We know that change can be achieved, but also that alternatives to the backstop do exist.

If an alternative is not possible, then it means the backstop cannot be the temporary arrangement that the EU insists it is.

In their joint letter to the Prime Minister on January 14, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker stated again that they did not want to see the backstop enter into force and were determined to see an agreement in place to that end.

They committed to use their "best endeavours" to conclude such an agreement before the end of the transition period within the withdrawal agreement, with top priority given to "alternative arrangements, including facilitative arrangements and technologies".

The question isn't whether the alternative exists, but why the European Union currently insists that negotiations cannot commence until after March 29.

While the EU is clearly happy to use the threat of a no-deal as a negotiating tactic, Sinn Fein appears content to push towards such an outcome simply to provide fodder for its united Ireland grievance mill. Beyond the street pantomime of fake checkpoints and sledgehammers, Mary Lou McDonald has spelt out that Sinn Fein's desire is to use a no-deal exit to agitate for a united Ireland.

At a time when everyone should be urging forward a willingness to find agreement, the goal of republicans is attempting to provide yet further instability through ongoing calls for a united Ireland.

Far from being an undesirable outcome, a no-deal exit appears to be integral to Sinn Fein's plans.

I believe the Irish Government is sincere in its desire to avoid both a no-deal exit and the erection of a 'hard border' between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The irony presently is that the backstop is the greatest obstacle to a deal and it is therefore making both of those outcomes more likely.

The Irish Government, like the other EU 27, signed up to using those "best endeavours" to see alternative arrangements to the backstop in place.

It is in the interests of both Northern Ireland and the Republic jointly that those endeavours are not delayed any longer.

Arlene Foster MLA is leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

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