31 May 2017
Speaking at the launch of the Party’s Westminster Manifesto, DUP Leader Arlene Foster said,
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland
It is good to be here in Antrim for the launch of our 2017 Westminster manifesto.
The choice facing the people of Northern Ireland at this election has been clear for some time.
This morning I want to set out just what is at stake at this election, how we will approach the negotiations after June 8 and why the Union matters so much.
In the heat of politics it can sometimes be all too easy to forget what we are actually fighting for. Northern Ireland’s membership of the United Kingdom is the most important thing to this party and the motivating factor behind all we do in politics.
The Assembly election in March has served as a wake up call for unionism.
On that day, Sinn Fein fell just 1,200 votes behind the DUP and unionism needlessly lost seats through a failure to act strategically and to transfer.
As a direct consequence of that result, Stormont has not been restored and public services are threatened. This election gives the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to put things right.
Even though this is not an election to the Assembly, it will go a long way towards determining whether devolution is restored or if we are to be ruled directly from Westminster for the next five years, setting the direction for Northern Ireland for decades to come.
Every vote in every seat will matter, not just to determine who will be returned to Parliament but also as a mandate for the political negotiations that will follow.
Given the record of Jeremy Corbyn over the last four decades I am certainly not neutral about who wins the General Election and who is the next Prime Minister but, equally, I want the people of Northern Ireland to be taking many of the key decisions about our future - not a Conservative Government at Westminster.
It is a perverse logic that a vote for Sinn Fein, the party which claims to oppose a Conservative government, will do the most to give the Prime Minister a free hand on Brexit, on the border and on the level of public spending in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein complains about Tory cuts but isn’t prepared to lift a hand at Stormont or at Westminster to stop them.
Sinn Fein complains about Brexit, a year after they did precious little to oppose it at the referendum, but seem to be the only party that actually seem to talk up the prospects of a hard border no one actually wants.
And Sinn Fein are asking for people’s votes not to go to a Parliament that they say they would have no influence in anyway.
At this election, the surest way to give Theresa May a free hand to take all the decisions in Northern Ireland is not to vote for the local Conservative candidates, it is to vote for Sinn Fein.
Despite all that has happened, I want to see a local power sharing Executive up and running again where it is local people - and not Westminster - who make decisions.
We want to make devolution work. We will enter the negotiations that will follow the election with a positive approach and a goal of seeing the Assembly and Executive restored.
We will not draw any red lines or set any preconditions but will judge any potential deal against five core tests.
1. Is the agreement likely to increase support for Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom?;
2. Is the agreement fully consistent with Northern Ireland remaining a full and integral part of the United Kingdom?;
3. Is the agreement fully compatible with our British citizenship?;
4. Will the agreement result in better government and policies for the people of Northern Ireland than a return to Direct Rule?; and
5. Is the agreement consistent with the mandate we received for our Assembly manifesto in March?
We have, and we will, continue to engage constructively but this process cannot and will not be a one-way street.
For me, by far the most important issue at this election is not devolution but the Union itself.
My Britishness is not just about the passport I hold but the identity that I have. It cannot be reduced to a name or a badge but is a culture and a way of life. It is about decency and respect.
It is about a shared history going back generations. It is about a shared cultural experience which encompasses the newspapers that we read, the television we watch and the football teams we support. It is about the institutions we cherish – like the NHS – which are the envy of others.
It is about a pride in our role for good in the world, not just through two world wars and the fight against communism in the past but the battle for freedom and democracy today. It was that devotion to country that led so many of our people down the years to serve in the armed forces and make the ultimate sacrifice for a greater good.
By today’s standards the UK is not a large country in population terms but our our influence extends to every part of the globe. We retain a leading role on the world stage, not just because our past record but because we can be relied up as a force for good when times are tough.
Fundamental to all that we are as a nation is our belief in freedom and democracy. For us these things do not need to be codified in a written constitution but are the beating heart of who we are as a society.
The United Kingdom today has a very different cultural make up in 2017 than it did in 1917 but we have retained the values that made our country great. Whatever the debate today about immigration from the EU, there is no doubt that our country has been enhanced by the people who have over decades come to our shores.
The fact that, to this day, the UK remains a beacon attracting people from all over the globe to work, to settle and to make their lives, tells us more about our country than any other statistic really can.
Our democratic system has stood the test of time over centuries. Westminster remains a shining inspiration for fledgling democracies everywhere.
My belief in and support for the United Kingdom does not rely upon the economic arguments, though there can be do doubt that it is overwhelmingly the case that we are all better together than apart. The United Kingdom has allowed the sharing of wealth and prosperity, not just between people but across our entire country.
It is because of all of these things and countless more that I want to see our country succeed and prosper. Of course we can evolve and change but we must retain those things that have made us what we are.
In just four years’ time we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland. Given the history and events of the last hundred years, that is an achievement of which we can be proud.
It has been possible, not just because of the resolve of the people of Northern Ireland in the face of threats and attacks from many quarters, but also because of the support we have received from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Union will only survive if it is a two-way process. I am delighted that it has always been so. While from time to time British governments have often strayed from the path that we would ideally like to have seen pursued, we have always been able to count on the support of the British people.
That is why as the leader of unionism in Northern Ireland I want us to play as full a part as possible in the life of the United Kingdom as a whole. I want us to be able to contribute as much now and in the future in terms of the cultural and economic life of our country, just as we did a hundred years ago on the battlefields across Europe.
The Union already commands widespread support but we should also ask the question of what we can do to make it even more appealing to everyone within our society.
But first we must succeed in this election. And for unionists to succeed we must unite behind the strongest unionist voice available.
Northern Ireland needs one strong unionist voice at Westminster and in the negotiations.
Sinn Fein want to use this election as a precursor to a Border Poll.
Gerry Adams has declared that this election will be a barometer on Irish Unity. Let us rise to that challenge and seek to ensure that unionism still returns a majority of unionist MPs to Westminster and puts the notion of a divisive and destabilising Border poll off the agenda for generations to come.
On June 8 I am asking people to get Northern Ireland back on the right track.
To vote to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.
To strengthen our hand in negotiations.
To get the Assembly back up and running.
To protect our place in the United Kingdom
And to unite behind one strong unionist voice.