08 March 2018
DUP Leader Arlene Foster MLA addressed the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference today in London.
During her speech Mrs Foster said,
We have made significant progress in recent years in turning our economy around but there is much more work to do. We continue to suffer from a high economic inactivity rate. Incomes remain stubbornly low. Our private sector is still too small. And yes, we do face challenges. For the last thirteen months, we have been unable to form a devolved government. Efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Executive have been unsuccessful and I see little prospect of it being restored in the coming weeks or months. Whilst we want to see devolution, we have now placed our focus on having decisions made through Westminster. Key decisions must be made.
When I talk about the border in a Brexit scenario, I don’t speak about some far away land. I speak about home. I don’t want to see a hard border. I want to see an optimistic, sensible and pragmatic approach to Brexit.
Brexit and peace
I object in the strongest terms to people who have limited experience of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, throwing threats of violence around as some kind of bargaining chip in this negotiating process. To do so is an insult to the people of Northern Ireland who worked so hard to bring peace to the Country.
What we want from Brexit
We want to maximise the opportunities that will flow from our exit from the European Union. More powers in the hands of devolved administrations. More flexibility for locally elected Ministers to set policies that work for our regions. And the ability to pursue ambitious new free trade agreements around the world. But we also want to be able to continue to trade as freely with the EU as possible. We want to avoid a cliff edge for businesses by having a strictly time limited implementation period. We value the contribution that EU migrants have made and continue to make to our economy and society and we will support a new border policy that is strong but sensible.
Irish Sea Border
Of the £26 billion worth of sales by Northern Ireland firms that are outside of the region, 56% go to Great Britain. Northern Ireland trade with Great Britain is worth nearly 4 times more than Northern Ireland exports to the Republic. 72% of trade in and out of Belfast Harbour is to Great Britain and less than one fifth to the EU. Great Britain is, by far, our biggest external market. That’s why my Party outright rejected the text of the European Commission’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement when they published it last week.
Importance of UK market to RoI
And nor would any businesses in the Irish Republic want an Irish Sea border. Indeed, when we met with Michel Barnier on Tuesday one of the issues we brought to his attention were the concerns being raised with us by Republic of Ireland based companies who are terrified by idea that the European Union wants a new border in the Irish Sea.
The United Kingdom single market is critical to many Irish sectors and especially agri-foods with 40% of Irish food and drink going to the UK. It is not in the interests of the Irish economy to have any impediment to trade with what is their biggest external market.