31 January 2020
Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph DUP Leader Rt Hon Arlene Foster MLA said,
Northern Ireland has faced many historic moments over recent decades and tonight will be another one of those landmarks. At 11pm the United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union. Over three and a half years have passed since people across the UK voted in the largest democratic exercise we have seen in living memory.
Since that time, the rhetoric from all sides of the debate has been divisive and common ground has not always been easily found. It has been a period of great uncertainty, but following last December’s General Election result it became clear that the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement would see the UK leave today.
There is not now any debate on whether the UK should or will leave the European Union. That is happening and the focus should be on securing the very best outcome for Northern Ireland as we move forward. Securing that best deal was the basis for the letter which the then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and I sent to the then Prime Minister in August 2016.
I am pleased there is once Ministers from all parties at Stormont and we must work collectively if we are to mitigate the challenges Northern Ireland faces. As a unionist I recognise the importance of maintaining relationships and trade across the border with the Irish Republic. However, there was an almost singular focus on this cross-border dynamic over the last three years whilst our trade on an East-West basis was almost ignored.
In alleviating many of the predicted problems for trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, they have instead been transferred to our single largest market. Northern Ireland trades more with the rest of the UK than we do with the rest of the world combined and obstacles to that trade will have a real impact on businesses and on people’s lives here.
There is a challenge to many of those in political life and in wider civic society whose voices were raised so loudly in support of maintaining frictionless trade across our land border. They were right to raise those concerns, but they must also step up and use their voices in support of ensuring Northern Ireland has the access it needs within the United Kingdom’s single market.
There are many different political viewpoints in Northern Ireland and each of us will have different constitutional aspirations. However, what we can unite together on are issues which are in the common good of everyone in Northern Ireland. Our economic wellbeing must be one of those issues upon which we can all unite.
I am disappointed that this evening Northern Ireland will not leave the European Union on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We must look forward however, work collectively on the challenges which face us and seize the opportunities that will be presented.