24 November 2018
The speech delivered by DUP Deputy Leader Rt Hon Nigel Dodds MP at the 2018 DUP Annual Conference
DUP Deputy Leader, Leader of the DUP Parliamentary Party, Spokesman on Reform and Constitutional issues and Foreign Affairs
Mr Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen Thank you for that warm welcome.
We meet in historic and changing times. But some things remain constant.
The unwavering support which you, our members and friends, give to this party is truly humbling.
It has been that support which has sustained this party through the darkest and most difficult of days of Northern Ireland’s past.
Today the DUP stands at the epicentre of our national politics at a turning point in history. With that comes great challenges and great responsibilities.
But when you have a clear set of core values, core beliefs and core principles the path becomes easier.
For us the guiding star is the Union. Let me be very clear for those who have not been listening… the Union of this United Kingdom is non-negotiable!
In the coming days and weeks the DUP will be tried and tested like never before.
It will require the collective will not just of this party, but of all who value and cherish our precious Union, to stand firm in the face of the inevitable onslaught.
In such momentous times for our country it requires strong leadership to stand up to Brussels bullying. It needs a strong leader to stand by her red lines. It takes a strong leader to stand by her promises.
So step forward Arlene… Let me say from this stage on behalf of our elected representatives and the members of this party… Thank you Arlene for the work you do as our Leader.....a role you discharge with unwavering commitment and conviction. Mr Chairman,
It is less than 18 months since the people of Northern Ireland entrusted us with an historic mandate.
And since then our influence has been felt in every corner of the United Kingdom. Those who vote DUP have been shown once again that it means positive delivery for people in all sections of the community in Northern Ireland and across the country.
The triple lock to the State Pension- Secured. The universal Winter Fuel Allowance- Secured. Farm support for the entire Parliamentary Term- Secured. Our NATO commitment on Armed Forces spending – Secured. Additional funding for the Armed Forces Covenant- Secured. Investment in Universal Credit to protect the most vulnerable- Secured.
The lifting of the public sector pay cap - Secured For Northern Ireland we have delivered an unprecedented level of investment for all of our people….for those who voted for us, for those who didn’t vote for us and for those who didn’t vote at all.
Mr Chairman, the DUP delivers for everyone. Following on from the £1 billion of additional funding and the £500 million in extra spending power previously secured, we ensured last month’s Budget also delivered for Northern Ireland. For the Belfast Region City Deal, we have secured the most generous funding level per head of population in the entire United Kingdom.
A £350 million contribution from the Treasury to the overall deal that will transform our local communities, create up to 20,000 new jobs and regenerate our towns and cities.
The total City Deal investment will be upwards of another billion pounds of investment. There’s £320 million of additional resources for our hospitals, our schools and our roads. £2 million to support Belfast City Centre following the Primark fire. As well as the commitments for the Londonderry City Deal. All of this would not be possible without the hard work and determination of our Parliamentary Party. By working with the Government the Democratic Unionist Party has acted in the national interest, and ensured Northern Ireland has received unprecedented resources to benefit all of our people. As Leader at Westminster I want to thank my colleagues for their support, advice and hard work. This Parliament has placed unimaginable demands upon our MPs and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to each and every one of them. Mr Chairman,
The Confidence and Supply Agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP was based on our shared objectives for strengthening and enhancing the Union, and achieving an exit from the European Union that benefits all parts of the United Kingdom.
It speaks of our agreement to support legislation on Brexit in line with both parties’ shared priorities for negotiating a successful exit from the European Union.
That means delivering a Brexit deal that takes back control of our laws, our money and our borders and that we leave the European Union as one country.
And Parliament, with our votes, has legislated for the United Kingdom…..the UNITED KINGDOM… every part of it... to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The DUP has been indispensable in getting the Government its majority on Brexit thus far and indeed on many other issues as well. Without us the Government would have been defeated in almost half of all votes on the EU Withdrawal Act.
But of course the Confidence and Supply deal is a two way street. The Government’s commitments under it are clear… including on Brexit.
Commitments freely entered into must be delivered and if they are not, then clearly, as we have shown, there are consequences.
But it is in the interests of the country and of Northern Ireland that our parties continue to work together in the national interest.
Our agreement is of course with the Conservative Party.
It is incumbent therefore on all Conservatives in Parliament who recognise the importance of continuing stability and who wish to see the Government deliver its agenda to ensure it is honoured in full.
In the coming weeks Parliament will be faced with a clear choice on the future of our country.
To be a free independent trading nation leaving the EU as one United Kingdom….Or…..To be locked into an EU straitjacket, divided and diminished.
The published Withdrawal Agreement portrays a pitiful and pathetic place for the United Kingdom.
Hundreds of pages are devoted to a backstop which will bind the United Kingdom into taking the rules of the EU with no right to leave and no end date.
A backstop that will put Northern Ireland under swathes of EU laws with no say for anyone in Belfast or London….a trade border down the Irish Sea.
A backstop that keeps a continuing role for the ECJ.
A backstop that deletes all reference to para 50 of the Joint Report giving the final say to Northern Ireland.
A backstop that gives the entire leverage in negotiations on the final trade relationship to the EU.
A backstop that will mean that for the future the UK will have to have a Customs Union and high EU alignment OR leave NI in the Customs Union and high EU alignment.
And of course it is the EU that gets to decide since otherwise we stay locked in.
A backstop which, and this is the tragedy of it all, is totally unnecessary since everyone including Dublin, Brussels, London, Belfast say they are not going to have a hard border on the island of Ireland under any circumstances.
Back in December we advised the Prime Minister not to sign up to such a deal but she went ahead. And the provisos we secured and she entered into then…. she is now casting aside.
Those who say this backstop is good for our economy or business need to consider the effect of the trade barriers and growing divergence that would inevitably emerge, some immediately, most in future years, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK …our main market and from where most of our inward trade comes from.
No wonder the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it’s not good for our economy, it’s not good for our Union.
Conference, One of the most striking things about the recent period of turbulence has been the number of people from right across the UK speaking up in defence of the Union.
When I stood before you last year, I told you that the job of this party was to build a network of relationships and contacts that would strengthen and deepen support for Unionism. The fruit of our labour has been clear to see, with many Ministers who have resigned from Government and scores of MPs from all sides citing the clear damage the withdrawal plan would do to the Union. So successful in fact…we have even managed to convert Jeremy Corbyn to the cause.
It is still not too late for the Prime Minister to change course.
The DUP wants a deal with the European Union….we understand that businesses, families and communities want certainty.
But it is not this deal. It is not a deal at any price.
Prime Minister – bin the backstop.
Rather than waste any more time putting forward false choices, we need the government to get on with securing a better deal.
This party stands united in wanting a good deal for the United Kingdom, a deal which delivers upon the Referendum result and a deal which ensures that Northern Ireland leaves with the rest of the UK. And we will always use our votes to protect the Union… not to undermine it.
We are delighted today to welcome representatives from the Government of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is British and we will stand with its leaders and its people against those who seek to undermine their expressed will to remain British.
There will be those who will continue to exploit Brexit, to try and weaken the Union and to further their own political agendas, but in doing so, they do irreparable damage to the public’s faith in politics and to relationships on these islands. Be it those using the hard won peace in Northern Ireland as a political football to thwart or delay Brexit. Or those in other jurisdictions, trying to play up their Republican credentials in advance of a forthcoming General Election. By their actions they do more to advance the possibility of a so called No Deal Brexit than anyone.
We cannot and will not allow the position we find ourselves in to pass by without delivering a real and abiding legacy for future generations of Unionism. Taking difficult decisions, stretching ourselves and making progress in the long-term interests of Northern Ireland are what has brought this party to its present position.
We now stand as the strong unfettered voice of Unionism and of Northern Ireland. We have not been afraid of taking the tough decisions in the past and we have been rewarded for doing so by the people. We cannot allow Unionism to be guided by short term expediency over long-term necessity. As times change, so too must we adapt to ensure that we can meet the challenges that lie ahead. Unionism is something cherished by many not just in Northern Ireland but, as we have seen in recent days, by many across the U.K. from all backgrounds, parties and social background.
For that diverse Pro-Union family the overriding objective is the strengthening of our precious Union.
Nothing else comes close. And so it should be for us. Other unionist politicians may be opportunist and short term but I have no doubt where most grass roots unionists stand.
They want us to work together.
And we pledge that we will do everything possible to make that a reality. Mr Chairman,
Whilst Westminster is centre stage, we must never lose sight of the fact that the interests of Northern Ireland and of Unionism are best served when we control our own destiny.
I remain convinced that all of our people, regardless of class or creed, are best served by a local Assembly and Executive. Yes it is difficult to achieve consensus, but the collective and combined efforts of all of our people can deliver truly amazing results. Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the election of Sir Edward Carson as the Member of Parliament for the Duncairn Constituency.
The man who became the face and voice of opposition to Home Rule, and is forever remembered as a Unionist icon and leader, said it best… “Let us take care to win all that is best among those who have been opposed to us in the past.” Let us together continue to serve the people in the spirit of those who have gone before. The coming weeks and months will require our collective resolve.
It will not be easy and it will not always be straightforward. But with your continued help and support we are more prepared than ever before. We will need each and every one of you to join us on that journey as we continue to lead the way for Northern Ireland and for Unionism. Let us stand together for our Kingdom, our cause and our people.
Let it be said when the history books are written about these times, that it was the Democratic Unionist Party who stood strong for Northern Ireland and who stood strong for the great Union we cherish.