Arlene Foster calls for ‘sensible’ Brexit deal

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said she wants a “sensible” Brexit deal that works for people in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

Arlene Foster also rejected claims that the party is softening its position on Brexit.

Mrs Foster, who leads the biggest party in Northern Ireland, said that the DUP wants a Brexit deal that works for the UK constitutional position.

The unionist leader is in Dublin to give an address to members of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking to the media, Mrs Foster said that it is important there is an understanding of both the nationalist and unionist position.

Mrs Foster added: “I’ve heard from Europe today … about the majority in Northern Ireland wanting to have the backstop.

“But if you look at the Belfast Agreement, it’s about parallel consent, it’s about the consent of nationalism and the consent of unionism.

“There are no unionist MLAs who support the backstop at present so therefore there is a need to find a way forward which everybody can buy in to.”

Asked about claims that the DUP is softening its position, she said: “They really should look back at our position in 2016, directly after the referendum took place, to the letter that I signed with Martin McGuinness on the 10th August.

“They should look at our Westminster manifesto from 2017, when we talked about the need to find a sensible deal and a sensible way forward as well.

“There is a lot of commentary about the DUP being no-deal Brexiteers, but I think as people look at the evidence they will find something very different.”

The letter, jointly signed by Mrs Foster and the late Martin McGuinness, was sent to former prime minister Theresa May in 2016 in which they outlined their concerns about Brexit.

Mrs Foster added: “We recognise we are all on the island of Ireland, separated from Great Britain, but at the same time we’re also part of the United Kingdom and that has to be respected as well.”

She continues to back Boris Johnson’s position that the backstop in the Withdrawal agreement has to go.

She added: “I know people are very hung up on language during the Brexit negotiations, we’ve had a whole new lexicon of language that has developed over this past couple of years.

“I think what’s important to me is that it’s a deal that works for everyone.”

Asked if she was planning to meet Irish premier Leo Varadkar, Mrs Foster responded: “He may well meet me very soon.”

Speaking at the Dublin event on Wednesday, Mrs Foster said in her speech that the “upheaval and the changing circumstances” have placed strains on relationships both north and south as well as between London and Dublin.

“As the leader of unionism in Northern Ireland I want to reassure you, that as your neighbours and regardless of the final outcomes on Brexit we must work together in the future as friends and neighbours,” she said.

“We must do so in a spirit of co-operation recognising that through mutual respect and co-operative working we can successfully deliver for all those who, whether they live in Northern Ireland or the Republic, call this island home.

“For my part I know we can do that for the benefit of all our citizens without compromising the constitutional arrangements.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster also told the audience that the DUP offered to restore the Assembly in a time-limited manner with a “parallel process”, however this has been rejected by Sinn Fein.

Devolved government in Northern Ireland remains collapsed following a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein in January 2017.

Despite multiple rounds of talks, agreement has not been found to restore the Assembly and Executive at Stormont.

Mrs Foster added: “I want to see the devolved institutions restored so our citizens can shape their public services but I also see a functioning Stormont as a critical part of improving the east-west and north-south relationships.”

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