‘EU spin on of­fer sug­gested NI would have best of both worlds. That was a lie. We would not’

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS | POLITICS - Ar­lene Fos­ter MLA

LAST Mon­day evening I trav­elled to Brus­sels along with our MEP Diane Dodds. We had a se­ries of meet­ings ar­ranged with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the EU27 as well as the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier.

It was in that meet­ing with Michel Barnier and his team that we re­ceived a very clear out­line of the type of post-Brexit ar­range­ment the EU en­vi­sioned for North­ern Ire­land.

The deal on of­fer was cer­tainly unique but as the first State to leave the EU club, any deal will be unique. The EU spin on this of­fer sug­gested that North­ern Ire­land would have the best of both worlds — ie we would have full ac­cess to the EU sin­gle mar­ket and full ac­cess to the UK sin­gle mar­ket. That was a lie. We would not.

Un­der the EU’s plan, Great Bri­tain-based busi­nesses would have a bar­rier when they would seek to trade with North­ern Ire­land. Such a bar­rier cuts right to the heart of what is at stake here. The United King­dom is one na­tion. There should not be in­ter­na­tional-style bor­ders within it.

I am a union­ist. I be­came in­volved in pol­i­tics to build a bet­ter North­ern Ire­land within the United King­dom. Back in June 2017, when we agreed a con­fi­dence-and-sup­ply ar­range­ment with the Con­ser­va­tive Party, cen­tral to it was help­ing North­ern Ire­land fi­nan­cially but also the en­tire United King­dom. I want ev­ery part of the United King­dom to pros­per.

I would not tol­er­ate a trade bar­rier be­tween Eng­land and Wales any more than I would tol­er­ate one be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Great Bri­tain. The dan­gers to the Union and our sin­gle mar­ket were clearly demon­strated by how quickly the SNP de­manded the same for Scot­land as was of­fered to North­ern Ire­land.

Coun­tries like the United King­dom have some re­gional vari­a­tions but what is held in com­mon is what is fun­da­men­tal to make their na­tional mar­kets work. We may pay lower rates here than coun­cil tax in Eng­land. Dif­fer­ent states in the USA would be the same. How­ever, what is made in each part can be sold within those coun­tries with­out ex­tra bar­ri­ers.

In­deed, union­ists who voted Re­main have con­tacted me to ex­press their ve­he­ment op­po­si­tion to any deal which would limit North­ern Ire­land’s ac­cess to the United King­dom sin­gle mar­ket.

How­ever, it would be wrong to think that the DUP are the only peo­ple in Par­lia­ment who see the EU’s pro­posal as un­ac­cept­able. ‘No sea bor­der’ has sup­port across the House of Com­mons.

I be­lieve that the Prime Min­is­ter is in her own be­liefs a com­mit­ted union­ist. How­ever, she should learn from her pre­vi­ous fe­male pre­de­ces­sor, Mar­garet Thatcher. De­spite her union­ist con­vic­tions, oth­ers per­suaded Thatcher to sign the An­glo-Ir­ish Agree­ment. She later deeply re­gret­ted the choice she had made. How­ever, we do not want nor need the re­grets of an­other Prime Min­is­ter. We want the right choices made. We want her to stand by her prin­ci­ples and in­stincts rather than ac­cept­ing a dodgy deal foisted on her by oth­ers.

I fully ap­pre­ci­ate the risks of a ‘no deal’ but the dan­gers of a bad deal are worse. If true to her prin­ci­ples Mrs May would not and should not choose the path to ef­fec­tively cut North­ern Ire­land adrift.

The DUP’s ac­tions this week are not as some have sug­gested about ‘flex­ing mus­cle’. This is no game. Any­one en­gag­ing in this in a light-hearted way fool­ishly fails to grasp the grav­ity of the de­ci­sions we will make in the com­ing weeks.

Over time the gap be­tween UK reg­u­la­tions and EU reg­u­la­tions would only grow. With dou­ble red

DUP’s Ar­lene Fos­ter and Nigel Dodds speak to the Press in Por­ta­d­own yes­ter­day, and (left) Theresa May

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