Arlene Foster criticises Taoiseach for standing by backstop

Boris Johnson letter to EU president terms backstop ‘unviable’ and ‘anti-democratic’

DUP leader Arlene Foster: “I think the letter that the prime minister has sent to President Tusk explains very clearly why the backstop cannot be entered into.” Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA

DUP leader Arlene Foster: “I think the letter that the prime minister has sent to President Tusk explains very clearly why the backstop cannot be entered into.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

DUP leader Arlene Foster has criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for his insistence in his phone call with British prime minister Boris Johnson that the backstop must be maintained.

Ms Foster also clashed with Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill over the prime minister’s contention in his letter to EU president Donald Tusk that the backstop was “unviable” and “anti-democratic” and that it risked damaging the Irish peace process.

“I am not surprised by the Taoiseach’s reaction. I am almost tempted to say ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’” Ms Foster said on Tuesday.

“But I think the letter that the prime minister has sent to President Tusk explains very clearly why the backstop cannot be entered into,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

“Apart from, of course, the simple political reality that it has been rejected three times by the House of Commons, it is anti-democratic, it is inconsistent with the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, and, of course, it risks weakening the delicate balance, as is pointed out in the letter, between the parties to the Belfast Agreement,” added Ms Foster.

Belfast Agreement

She said that was “very important” because the Belfast Agreement has been used to “justify the backstop”.

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“But, as the prime minister points out, it doesn’t have the support of ourselves, political unionism as we are so-called,” she said.

“I mean, when you look across unionism, we are all against the backstop so that should concern the Dublin Government, because if the Dublin Government is genuine and values the Belfast Agreement they should be very concerned that unionism does not support the backstop.”

Ms O’Neill, however, said it was “rank hypocrisy for Boris Johnson to claim to be acting in the interests of the peace process claiming it will be damaged by the backstop”.

“In reality it is Boris Johnson’s reckless pursuit of a no-deal Brexit that is threatening to undermine the peace process,” she said.

“Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement and the Tories have shown a total and callous disregard to that agreement and to the democratically expressed wishes of the people of the North.”

‘Reckless and disingenuous’

Alliance Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry said the “complete rejection of the backstop by Boris Johnson is reckless and disingenuous”.

“There is no prospect of the backstop being removed or renegotiated. His scope to move lies around the political declaration and his current stance amounts to the pursuit of a catastrophic no-deal,” said the North Down Assembly member.

“Even more concerning is the fundamental misreading and narrowing of nature of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement. The agreement is about more than the principle of consent, it is about preserving the balance of relationships throughout these islands.”

He said the backstop was “not anti-democratic”. “Nor is it something imposed from the outside. It is supported by the majority of people in Northern Ireland on a cross-community basis,” he added.

“By contrast, we welcome [the] recommitment from Donald Tusk to the integrity of the backstop. It is disappointing the UK government does not have the same understanding as to what is at stake as the EU.”

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