Foster accuses Irish Government of being Brexit aggressor
DUP leader warns of ‘consequences’ if Theresa May presses ahead with draft deal
Arlene Foster: “There were solutions out there but unfortunately that was not the attitude that came from either the Irish Government or the European Union.” Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
DUP leader Arlene Foster has accused the Irish Government of being the aggressor in the Brexit negotiations while warning there would be “consequences” if Theresa May pressed ahead with a deal that threatened Northern Ireland’s union with Britain.
Ms Foster, speaking at Westminster on Wednesday evening, appeared unimpressed with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comment that he recognised that “for the unionist community this is quite a difficult time”.
Mr Varadkar reasserted in the Dáil on Wednesday that the Government respected the “territorial integrity of the UK and the principle of consent” of the Belfast Agreement.
Ms Foster, ahead of a meeting with the UK prime minister, said what was frustrating was that there were solutions to the Irish Border issue that did not necessitate the current political difficulties.
“We will not be led by anyone else. That has always been our position, and we certainly will not be led by the Irish Government, who have sought throughout to be the aggressive people in the process, and not looking for a solution,” she said.
“There were solutions out there but unfortunately that was not the attitude that came from either the Irish Government or the European Union either,” she added.
Before getting sight of the draft deal, Ms Foster said that “on the narrative that has come out from the prime minister, it certainly does not seem that we could support it because it breaches the red line in terms of having differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom”.
“In terms of regulation, obviously we would still be in the customs union as well and we cannot have that because we essentially would be rule-takers from Brussels without any democratic representation at all. We cannot have that and we cannot have the fact that it would be the break-up of the union.”
She said that in the meantime the agreement for the DUP to prop up Mrs May’s Tory government remained in place. She would not say whether she would seek to bring down the government and possibly usher in a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government. But she warned there would be consequences if the deal threatened the union.
“Of course there will be consequences. We could not as unionists support a deal that broke up the United Kingdom, ” said Ms Foster.
Cut the hysteria
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on Ms Foster and the DUP “to cut the hysteria and act on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland”.
“The reaction to a reported Brexit deal by the DUP is both flippant and irrational. I would remind Arlene Foster that her first priority is to defend political stability and the economic future of our people here,” he said.
“It’s time for cool heads, not knee-jerk reactions,” added Mr Eastwood.
The Ulster Unionist Party’s Steve Aiken said unionists had real concerns about any proposals that would undermine “Northern Ireland’s political integrity with the rest of the United Kingdom”.
“We don’t want to be any different from the rest of the United Kingdom. We want to see a good agreement post Brexit that works for everybody. We want to see everybody in a plus, plus situation if we can,” he added.
He added: “Overall, however, Brexit is not in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland in particular. That’s why an informed and rational analysis of any Brexit deal and a People’s Vote is the only way forward.”