20 September 2017
DUP Leader Arlene Foster MLA has reiterated the Party’s commitment to delivering a seamless land border with the Irish Republic as part of a ‘sensible’ Brexit for Northern Ireland.
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland
Commenting after she and a DUP delegation met with the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, during his visit to Stormont, Mrs Foster said:
“The DUP is committed to a Brexit that delivers stability and new benefits for people living and working right across Northern Ireland. We have been clear in saying that this means finding a solution that keeps the border open and seamless for travel and trade.
In London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels there has been an acceptance of Northern Ireland’s unique position within talks that are ongoing. The visit by the European Parliament’s negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, is further reflection of this widespread desire to give our specific circumstances clear priority. I and my Party colleagues were therefore pleased to meet with him to restate the DUP position. We were encouraged that he acknowledged Brexit was happening and that solutions agreed in relation to Northern Ireland should respect that.
In recent weeks progress has made in talks aimed at retaining the Common Travel Area (CTA) post-Brexit. I stressed to Mr Verhofstadt that ensuring this happens is vital for those residing on both sides on the border and will ensure that the particular rights granted to Irish citizens in British law can continue to be exercised. Recent figures show an increase of 49% in overnight visits by Irish visitors to Northern Ireland. It is clear that the CTA works for both sides. I also pointed Mr Verhofstadt to the pledge by the UK Government that these future common travel arrangements will not impact on the Republic of Ireland’s ability to meet its EU obligations in terms of free movement after Brexit.
On future customs ties the DUP position is clear. We want to secure an outcome that keeps the border open and seamless for businesses involved in cross-border trade. However this solution must be part of a UK-wide solution. We will not countenance any customs deal that cuts Northern Ireland adrift from our primary marketplace. That was the message we delivered to Mr Verhofstadt.
Whether it be in terms of transition or future trade relations with those in the Single Market, Northern Ireland must be treated in the same fashion as the rest of the UK. This makes sense to our exporters. Great Britain accounts for 73% of trade flows in and out of Belfast Harbour. The latest NI manufacturing statistics show that sales to GB are worth six times more than those to the Republic of Ireland, and for local agri-food the percentage of sales within the UK stands at 75%.
It is clear that whilst the failed prospect of a special designated status for our Province may be attractive politically to some, it would come at a heavy price to many sectors of the local economy. We warned Mr Verhofstadt that those in Brussels with genuine concern for our citizens, for the future of the border and for political progress should not allow themselves to be blinded from this reality by those factions who simply wish to use the Brexit process as a way of attacking our place in the United Kingdom.
There has been a great deal of speculation around Brexit and the impact on the Belfast Agreement. This is despite numerous interventions and reports indicating that power-sharing arrangements would be unaffected. However it is vital that the principle of consent and the widespread support for Northern Ireland’s place in the Union as proven by June’s election is respected in the outworking of any Brexit solutions identified.
The reality is that Brexit will not undermine the devolved settlement. The transfer of new powers to Stormont offers the opportunity to renew decision-making and could give autonomy in terms of the tools that can be levered to create jobs and growth. That is why it is wrong that Sinn Fein’s position has left our Province without a substantive voice at the JMC or the fully functioning government that is required to embrace these new opportunities.
It is my hope that Mr Verhofstadt has listened to these concerns and that he returns to Brussels with a view of the Northern Ireland situation that is informed and realistic. We will continue to work with the EU institutions throughout the process. Through our MEP and 10 MPs the DUP will continue to actively work for a sensible Brexit outcome that delivers for all the people of Northern Ireland.’’