Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - BY SUZANNE BREEN

AR­LENE Fos­ter has said her party is not call­ing for a hard Brexit and is against any phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture on the bor­der.

Speak­ing in Lon­don yes­ter­day, the DUP leader said she wanted North­ern Ire­land to have a strong and pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with both the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land and the EU.

She also stressed she had no prob­lem with the Ir­ish lan­guage and did not see it as threat to the Union or her union­ism.

Bri­tish val­ues of “diver­sity and tol­er­ance” meant there was a place for Ir­ish cul­ture in North­ern Ire­land, she said.

Mrs Fos­ter was ad­dress­ing what the DUP de­scribed as a busi­ness event.

She said she wanted Brexit com­pleted “sooner rather than later” and in a com­mon sense way.

“Some have asked if a sen­si­ble Brexit means we want a hard Brexit or if we pre­fer a soft Brexit,” Mrs Fos­ter said.

“When we say we want a sen­si­ble Brexit, we want to see the ref­er­en­dum re­sult respected.

“We want all of the UK leav­ing the EU, thus giv­ing us con­trol of our laws, our money and our bor­ders, but do­ing so in a way that achieves the best pos­si­ble out­come for us.

“In North­ern Ire­land, we want to see no phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture on our bor­der with our Re­pub­lic of Ire­land neigh­bours.

Mrs Fos­ter said the DUP con­tin­ued to work with the Government “to make sure the bor­der is­sue is not used as an ex­cuse to stop or wa­ter down” Brexit.

She re-stated her party’s op­po­si­tion to a bor­der in the Ir­ish Sea.

The DUP leader told her au­di­ence of her policeman fa­ther be­ing shot by “the cow­ards of the IRA” be­cause “he was proud to put that uni­form on and de­fend democ­racy against ter­ror”.

Bul­lets and bombs could not “dampen our union­ism and our Bri­tish­ness,” she said.

“I am hugely proud to be Bri­tish, but our Bri­tish­ness is about much more than the pass­port we hold. It can­not and should not be re­duced down to a name or a badge,” Mrs Fos­ter stressed.

“It is about a shared his­tory go­ing back gen­er­a­tions. Pride in a UK which ended the slave trade, was the home of the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion and which founded the welfare state.

“What knits us to­gether isn’t a com­mon po­lit­i­cal creed, one re­li­gion or the same skin colour.

“We are bound to­gether by a set of com­mon val­ues, like democ­racy, free­dom, re­spect for the rule of law and tol­er­ance for oth­ers.”

Mrs Fos­ter said while she would never per­mit “a sit­u­a­tion where Ir­ish is forced on any­one or be­comes equiv­a­lent to English”, she didn’t see the lan­guage as “a threat to my union­ism or the main­te­nance of the Union”.

She con­tin­ued: “I would be be­ing ut­terly se­lec­tive in my Bri­tish­ness if I were to ar­gue, as I do, that our diver­sity and tol­er­ance of it is what makes the UK a suc­cess but at the same time say that there is no place for Ir­ish cul­ture.”

Re­fer­ring to the ap­proach­ing cen­te­nary of the cre­ation of the North­ern Ire­land state, Mrs Fos­ter said it was “an an­niver­sary many on all sides” may have thought would never hap­pen.

“The bulk of our first 100 years has seen us ei­ther in ac­tual con­flict or ar­gu­ing over our con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus. The next 100 years need not be the same,” she added.

While North­ern Ire­land had ben­e­fited fi­nan­cially from the Union, the DUP leader’s support for it didn’t de­pend on eco­nomic ar­gu­ments. The re­la­tion­ship of North­ern Ire­land peo­ple to the UK could not be judged just in terms of “pounds and pence”, she said. “It is mea­sured in the blood sac­ri­fice at the Somme and Messines and across Flan­ders fields dur­ing the Great War,” she said.

“It is mea­sured in the en­rich­ment of our cul­tural life made by writ­ers like C. S. Lewis and Sea­mus Heaney.”

Ar­lene Fos­ter said she wanted Brexit com­pleted ‘sooner rather than later’

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