Boris Johnson ‘broke his word’ over Brexit union pledge, says Arlene Foster
DUP says deal will put a border down the Irish sea and threaten the union with Britain
DUP leader Arlene Foster pictured with her deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
DUP leader Arlene Foster has strongly signalled that in the event of a hung British parliament, or if the Tories end up with a small majority, she will seek to force Boris Johnson to change his Brexit deal.
Ms Foster said the deal went to the “heart of the Act of Union” which was intolerable for unionism.
Despite assurances by Mr Johnson to the contrary, Ms Foster said that before the British prime minister announced his deal to exit the EU she and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds were informed by HM Revenue and Customs that goods coming from Britain to the North would face customs checks under such an agreement.
“Most of our goods, particularly in the retail sector, come from Great Britain, and therefore any checks on those goods would lead to higher costs, perhaps even less choice for people here in Northern Ireland and that is completely unacceptable,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.
“People are very frustrated at the fact that Northern Ireland is going to be left behind and that Northern Ireland will be treated differently.”
Ms Foster said she was not prejudging the outcome of the election but it was vital that the DUP had a strong team of MPs in the House of Commons “to speak up for Northern Ireland”.
“Because in the event of a hung parliament [where no one party has an overall majority] or in the event even of a small majority for a Conservative leader, we will be wanting clarity and we will be wanting to make sure that we deal with this customs issue,” she said.
Like Mr Johnson she too wanted to “get Brexit done” but, she added, “You cannot leave part of the United Kingdom in a worse off position and leave us in a situation where we have checks between different parts of the United Kingdom.”
Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he believed the DUP would support a minority Labour government if Thursday’s election produces a hung parliament but ruled out any coalitions, pacts or deals.
“It will be up to other parties to actually take their decision on what aspects of that programme they’ll support and those that they don’t,” he said.
“Over the years I have worked with individual DUP politicians. I can’t see them voting against the real living wage, I can’t see them voting against the levels of investment that we want to put in right the way across the country, including Northern Ireland.”
Asked would she not take Mr Johnson on his word in the future, Ms Foster said, “Once bitten twice shy”. That was why, she added, in the week leading up to the Brexit deal the DUP was engaging with the British revenue and customs office “to make sure what was being said was factually correct”.
Ms Foster made reference to the loyalist rally in the Ulster Hall on Friday night where Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal was described as a “betrayal act” that would lead to an “economic united Ireland”.
When asked had she and the DUP played their cards badly by previously standing by Mr Johnson, she replied: “I think it is right for the leadership of unionism in Northern Ireland to try to work with the prime minister of the day to get the best deal for Northern Ireland. We will always do that. We will continue to do that. I think it says more about the person who broke their word than me.”
Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said he was glad to hear Ms Foster would “never take Boris Johnson at his word again”.
“This is certainly a turnaround from what the DUP said about Boris Johnson at the DUP’s reception for him at the Conservative Party conference on October 1st, 2019 when they praised him for his ‘vision and clarity’ on Brexit,” he said.