Arlene Foster urges May to go back to Brussels for better deal

DUP will oppose Jeremy Corbyn’s no confidence motion in British government

The DUP leader Arlene Foster called on British prime minister Theresa May to now to go back to Brussels and compel the European Union to make "fundamental change" to the EU-UK withdrawal agreement.

After the British prime minister’s negotiated agreement was resoundingly rejected by 432 to 202 votes on Tuesday night Ms Foster said Westminster had acted in the best interests “of the entire United Kingdom”.

The DUP nonetheless has committed to supporting Ms May in Wednesday's Labour no confidence motion against the British government and to continue the confidence and supply agreement to keep the Tories in power.

“Mrs May will now be able to demonstrate to the Brussels’ negotiators that changes are required if any deal is to command the support of parliament,” she said.


“We will work with the government constructively to achieve a better deal. That is our focus. Whilst some may wish to use this defeat to boost their political ambitions, we will give the government the space to set out a plan to secure a better deal,” said Ms Foster.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must ensure that the backstop is maintained.

“The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and our partners at a European level need to stand firm and not move away from or attempt to dilute the backstop,” she said.

"We need to say clearly to the British that if they wish to Brexit then that's a matter for themselves but any Brexit agreement needs to recognise, understand and protect the people, the economy and the peace process on this island," added Ms McDonald.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the "naive belief in Westminster that a better deal can be negotiated with Brussels is merely postponing the inevitable".

"The fact remains - there is no way to avoid a hard border in Ireland if Northern Ireland leaves the customs union and single market. That is why a backstop is essential," he said.

“Northern Ireland’s economy and stability can’t be sacrificed because politicians in London have failed to recognise the obvious,” added Mr Eastwood.

The Ulster Unionist Party MEP Jim Nicholson said the reaction of Brussels to the vote would be extremely important and "now is the opportunity to fix the backstop".

"If we can fix the withdrawal agreement and in particular the backstop, we avoid the no deal outcome which would have serious consequences for both the United Kingdom and the European Union," he said.

“Brussels has the room and ability to manoeuvre. It is time for the EU to reflect on this vote, show maturity, and find a better agreement that can be accepted by a majority in the House of Commons and ensure we leave the European Union with a good deal,” added Mr Nicholson.

Alliance Leader Naomi Long said there was "no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit" and now was the time for a "people's vote" on the UK exiting the EU.

“Democracy is an active process, and given what we now know and the ongoing deadlock, the people of UK must have the right to have their say,” she said.

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the “treacherous deal” got “its just deserts”.

“It deserved no better. PM needs to present EU choice of ditch the backstop or face no deal. No more rollover,” he tweeted.

The leader of the Greens in Northern Ireland Clare Bailey said it was now time for a “people’s vote” and that the “option to remain must be on the table”.

The DUP leader Ms Foster when earlier confirming that the party’s 10 MPs would vote against the withdrawal agreement repeated that the backstop was unnecessary and that the “borders of the past were there for a completely different reason”.

“They were there to stop terrorists, they were there to stop the flow of Semtex as opposed to the flow of powdered milk,” she said.

This prompted SDLP border MLA Justin McNulty to respond that “long before the Troubles broke out, there was a customs border”.

“A border existed since partition and it existed primarily as a customs border. It sought to prevent the carrying of goods across the border without paying excise duty. It was only in the 1970s the militarised border appeared and this lasted for over thirty years,” he added.

"The people of Ireland, North and South, do not want to go back to any form of border on this island. Mrs Foster and her colleagues have blindly followed the rightwing pied pipers Jacob Reese Mogg, David Davis and Boris Johnston into a Brexit cul-de-sac," said Mr McNulty.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times