Foster insists North will not remain in customs union following Brexit

The DUP leader said she wants the border to remain 'free' and 'open' but did not outline how

Foster insists North will not remain in customs union following Brexit

File photo | Arlene Foster in Dublin, 30-10-2017. Image: Sam Boal / RollingNews

The DUP has insisted it will not support any Brexit deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Addressing the annual DUP conference this afternoon, she admitted no one wants to see a hard border on the island of Ireland.

However, she said her party will not accept any suggestion that the North should remain within the customs union after the UK leaves the EU.

“During the referendum campaign and ever since, some of those who advocated ’remain’ have argued that the UK’s departure from the EU will result in a hard border on the island of Ireland,” she said.

“I said from this platform twelve months ago that no one wishes that to be the case. 

“We want our border to remain open for people to move freely north and south for work, for education and as tourists.  We want to see continued trading across the border in the economic interests of our two countries.”

Customs union

She went on to say that north's most important trading relationship remains with Britain, adding "we will do nothing that puts this at risk in any way."

“We want a sensible Brexit,” she said. “A Brexit that works for Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom.”

“However, we will not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations.”

She said she had written to the heads of Government from all the remaining 27 EU member states adding that she had been reassured by the British Prime Minister and the UK Brexit negotiating team that they will not accept any barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Yesterday evening, she criticised the Government’s threat to block Brexit negotiations from moving on to the next stage, unless there is a written commitment that there will be no return to a hard border.

“I think it would be very wrong if they exercise their veto because actually what we want to get down to is the detailed work in relation to the border and to our trading relationships and how it is going to work post-Brexit,” she said.

Stormont

She said she still believes a devolved administration at Stormont is the best way to govern Northern Ireland.

She said that previous Stormont administrations delivered “record levels of inward investment, scores of new schools built, miles of new roads constructed and hundreds of millions more spent on health.”

“Northern Ireland needs a government and we cannot continue without Ministers,” she said.

“Time is short and those in Sinn Fein blocking the restoration of local decision making need to decide whether they want to do business with us or have direct rule ministers in place.

“I still believe that devolution is the best way to govern Northern Ireland but to do that in a way that delivers for all of our people we need serious partners in government.”

Acht na Gaeilge

One of the sticking points that has held up the restoration of the Stormont assembly has been Irish language rights.

Sinn Féin has warned that there can be no deal without a standalone Irish Language Act – as was agreed to by all parties in the St Andrew’s Agreement.

The agreement formed the basis for the restoration of devolution in the North in 2007.  

Ms Foster said she is prepared to legislate for the Irish language – but only within legislation that recognises the “plurality of cultures that exist in Northern Ireland.”

“The Irish language is spoken and enjoyed by thousands of people in all parts of Northern Ireland,” she said.

“It does no damage to our unionism or the Union we cherish.

“I respect the Irish language and those who speak it.  However, respect isn’t a one-way street.  Respect works both ways.”