26 October 2019
The speech delivered to the 2019 DUP Annual Conference by Deputy Leader Rt Hon Nigel Dodds MP
DUP Deputy Leader, Leader of the DUP Parliamentary Party, Spokesman on Reform and Constitutional issues and Foreign Affairs
The Brexit Secretary had asked for a speaking slot this year to outline the Government’s Agreement with the European Union, but given his recent inability to recall what he actually negotiated, we politely declined.
Conference, since we last met here just over eleven short months ago, this party has been tried and tested like never before.
But we are undaunted.
Our political opponents have tried us at the ballot box and the Government has tested our commitment to the Union.
But we are standing strong.
With your support… they got their answer loud and clear!
As this party continues to stand at the centre of our national politics we do so united and unwavering in our commitment to this United Kingdom.
Now more than ever Unionism needs its strongest team, leading from the front to protect our place in the Union and to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.
For this party, the Union is not just a convenient party tagline or a tool to win a leadership contest… it is the principle by which all our decisions are judged.
I say again clearly for those who have failed to listen… the Union of this United Kingdom is non-negotiable.
The real test of any political party is not simply when times are good, but in the face of adversity, the true grit of leadership shines through.
Under your leadership Arlene, this party stands strong as the guardians of our precious Union. You have shown this party will not be browbeaten or found wanting when it comes to protecting what we hold dear.
Under estimate the DUP at your peril!
Twice this year we went to the country with our positive message of keeping Northern Ireland moving forward and our unrivalled record of positive delivery.
For that we were rewarded by the people.
The DUP was returned as Northern Ireland’s largest party in Local Government, with more votes and more seats than any other party.
In the European Election in May, Diane was elected as Northern Ireland’s first MEP, with the DUP increasing its vote whilst others including Sinn Fein saw their vote share fall back.
Recent weeks have shown that this party does not blindly follow any Government; our loyalty is to the people of Northern Ireland and to our Union.
During this Parliament we have ensured that our influence is felt in every corner of this Province, delivering real and meaningful investment in the lives of all of our people.
Whilst others boycott their responsibilities, play dress up at the border and bang bin lids on the ground, this party delivers billions of pounds for the people of Northern Ireland.
We have been able to do that as a result of the votes of the people.
Speaking with one strong, united voice at Westminster delivering for Northern Ireland.
Make no mistake elections matter. Votes matter. With a strong mandate and a strong team we have worked to get things done for Northern Ireland.
More has been achieved and Northern Ireland’s issues are front and centre of the debate at Westminster.
I am delighted to report that since we last met, this party has delivered a further £1 billon of extra resources for the people of Northern Ireland.
This follows on from the £1 Billion of additional funding and the £500 million in extra spending power previously secured under Confidence and Supply.
In just 12 months, £400 million under the Spending Review for our hospitals, our schools and the Police Service of Northern Ireland delivered.
£163 million growth deal for ABC, Fermanagh and Omagh and Mid Ulster Council area- Delivered.
£400 million for the Belfast Region and Londonderry City Deals- Delivered.
£52 million of Winter Fuel Payments to almost 300,000 people- Delivered.
£40 million from the Spring Statement for Ultrafast Broadband and to improve rural Connectivity- Delivered.
We have also continued to campaign for the most vulnerable in our society and delivered real success.
For the Victims of Historical Institutional Abuse, the Government has now announced the creation of a redress board to compensate victims.
For Universal Credit claimants, extra investment to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
For the brave members of our Security Services and members of the public injured during the troubles at the hands of terrorism, a pension will be introduced early next year.
And only the innocent victims will benefit.
The DUP continues to delivery for everyone and we have more we want to see delivered.
All of this success would not have been possible without the work and dedication of our Members of Parliament, working across the party with our colleagues in the Assembly, our local councillors, our MEP and with the many volunteers across the party who work tirelessly to support us across the Province.
To all of you I say thank you for your help, loyalty and support.
The pressure placed upon our Members of Parliament this year has been unprecedented but the cause is great and we are determined to do what is right.
Mr Chairman, Last year this Conference rightly rejected the then Prime Minister’s Deal.
Rightly rejected the Backstop.
Rightly rejected being locked into an EU straightjacket.
Rightly rejected a border down the Irish Sea.
Today conference, we stand by our principles.
We well recall the words spoken last year from this very stage by the then Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and let us remind him now of those words;
“I have to tell you that no British Conservative Government could or should sign up to any such arrangement.”
Stick to your word Prime Minister!
This party has always made clear that we want a deal.
A deal that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and for the European Union.
A deal that recognises Northern Ireland’s unique history and geography.
A deal that supports our business community and families across this Province.
But, this party will only support a deal that ensures Northern Ireland leaves the European Union in a way that protects both the economic and constitutional integrity of our United Kingdom.
We hear much of delivering the result of the referendum.
The Referendum result was not for a Great Britain Brexit, it was for a United Kingdom Brexit.
The government’s proposals put forward not only undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, they would be disastrous for our local economy and our long-term economic well-being.
In fairness to the Prime Minister, neither he, nor the Brexit Secretary seems to know what on earth they negotiated.
So here is a summary for them,
- Northern Ireland forced to apply the European Union Customs Code,
- Businesses sending goods to N Ireland forced to fill in customs declarations,
- forced to pay EU tariffs on some classes of goods,
- physical checks applied.
And as for goods travelling to the rest of the United Kingdom they are subject to exit declarations (or in the words of the Brexit Secretary targeted administrative interventions).
This could cost between £15 and £56 a time according to their own impact assessment document.
This is not the best of both worlds; I wish it were.
This is the worst of all worlds!
Trade within the United Kingdom is the backbone of Northern Ireland’s economy, which is why we ensured the 2017 Joint Report guaranteed unfettered access to the Great Britain market for Northern Ireland businesses.
We sell £14 billion to Great Britain and £3.8 billion to the Irish Republic.
We buy £11.6 billion from Great Britain and £2 billion from the Irish Republic.
It would be economic madness for Northern Ireland to stand by and allow ourselves to have such impediments put in the way of trade with our largest market within our own borders.
Increased costs, administrative burdens and less consumer choice are the outworkings of the Prime Minister’s proposals for Northern Ireland.
Ministers may suffer from an inability to read their own Withdrawal Agreement, we do not!
Take back control has been the Prime Minister’s mantra, but yet he proposes to give the European Union a veto over the internal customs arrangements of the United Kingdom through the Joint Committee.
Mr Chairman, For 3 years we have all been lectured on the sanctity of the Belfast Agreement; including by those who continue to interfere in matters outside of their remit and by those who continue to block the return of power-sharing.
Yet when it comes to applying the very principles of the Belfast Agreement to the Withdrawal Agreement, the issue of consent is cast aside for this issue alone.
Unionism will not accept a situation where one party can veto the existence of the Assembly, but similar protections are not afforded inside the Assembly.
On this issue, on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, Unionism stands and speaks together with one voice… We will not accept a Customs border in the Irish Sea.
Conference, I am sure the Government has taken note of its last two defeats in the House of Commons on Brexit.
It has been the votes of this party that has been the difference between the Prime Minister being able to hold his Meaningful Vote and being able to timetable his Withdrawal Agreement.
Today I give clear notice that going forward the Democratic Unionist Party will look at every proposal, every legislative provision, and every amendment through one prism and one prism only. How does this best protect the Union?
Some would say yes to anything… some would say no to everything… the DUP does what is right for Northern Ireland.
Mr Chairman, The Prime Minister wants to deliver Brexit and so do we.
We were ready and willing to support a sensible Brexit deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
But not at any price.
The roadmap to a majority in the House of Commons is clear.
The quest to deliver Brexit can be complete with our votes.
Together, as one United Kingdom.
There can be no doubting that the events of the past three years have placed immense pressures on relations across these islands, on businesses and communities.
That is why any Brexit Deal cannot erect new barriers. We need our people to come together, not create more division.
The people of Northern Ireland want local parties making decisions that move us forward.
They want Northern Ireland to continue moving forward, on the basis of consensus and collective decision making, which combines the talents of all of our people whilst respecting diversity.
By moving forward together, the place we call home – Northern Ireland - has continued to defy the odds, to punch above its weight and to achieve so much more than the sum of its collective parts.
Whilst at Westminster our influence is being felt in every corner of this Kingdom, we must never forgot that the interests of Unionism and of Northern Ireland are best served when we control our own destiny.
Our cause and our country are strengthened by a local Assembly and Executive.
Mr Chairman, as the undisputed voice of Unionism and of Northern Ireland, the responsibility for the Union rests on our shoulders.
As the guardians of the Union, entrusted by the people, it is incumbent upon this party to deliver a Unionism that is fit for the next generation.
In all that we do, it must be to ensure we strengthen the long-term interests of Unionism.
The coming days will not be easy.
The pressures will be great.
But we do not stand alone, but with the collective will of Unionism.
Together, Unionism stands united.
Together, Unionism speaks with one voice.
With your continued help and support we will prevail.
This party is prepared for what lies ahead, strong in its convictions, strong in its values, standing strong for Northern Ireland.
And let it be said of these times, that when we were tested… that it was the Democratic Unionist Party that stood strong for Northern Ireland and stood strong for our great Union.