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'Unique history and geography' - Arlene Foster open to North-only solutions in Brexit deal as she meets Taoiseach


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the North’s former First Minister Arlene Foster

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the North’s former First Minister Arlene Foster

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the North’s former First Minister Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster has opened the door to a Brexit deal that includes specific arrangements for Northern Ireland.

On a visit to Dublin on Wednesday, Ms Foster signalled her openness to particular Brexit solutions that acknowledge the “unique history and geography” of Ireland - as long as they respect the constitutional position of the North within the UK.

While in Dublin, Ms Foster met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this evening in Government Buildings for 45 minutes.

A government spokesperson said they discussed Brexit as well as efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and they “agreed to stay in touch”.

Her remarks come with just over six weeks until the October 31 deadline and will be seen as significant given they were made at an event in Dublin.

In a speech to business executives at the Dublin Chamber event, Ms Foster said her party was prepared to be flexible and look at “Northern Ireland specific solutions achieved with the support and consent of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland”.


Boris Johnson with Arlene Foster at the DUP conference in 2018

Boris Johnson with Arlene Foster at the DUP conference in 2018

Boris Johnson with Arlene Foster at the DUP conference in 2018

She said: “We want to have prosperous trading relationships across the island and allow businesses to get back to investing in the future with confidence.

“There are some sectors of the economy in particular where the nature of the supply chains are significantly integrated and we believe, with flexibility on all sides, that solutions can be found that will not on the one hand erect new barriers to trade within the United Kingdom while not damaging the integrity of the EU Single Market.”

Speaking to journalists before she addressed the private dinner on Wednesday evening, Ms Foster again firmly restated her party’s opposition to the UK-wide backstop and a Northern Ireland-only backstop in any Brexit deal.

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But she acknowledged the “unique history and geography” of the island of Ireland and referred repeatedly to a letter she co-wrote with the late former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, in August 2016.

This letter set out a number of concerns of the then Northern Executive - which has now been defunct for over two years - and said any Brexit deal should acknowledge the North’s unique circumstances.

Ms Foster said that the presentation of the DUP as a no deal party was wrong and insisted it is in favour of a “sensible deal and a sensible way forward” as long as it protected the constitutional position of the North inside the UK.

“I think what we want to see happening is a recognition that we are on an island - we recognise that - we recognise the unique history and geography. I think to go back to my language of the [August 2016].

"But we also have to recognise that we are in the UK and I think sometimes people forget that,” Ms Foster said to journalists outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin.

“I want to see Northern Ireland being very firmly with the rest of Great Britain particularly in and around customs and the single market because of course the UK single market is our most important single market. Seventy-two per cent of goods that leave the port of Belfast go to GB and it would be madness to have any sort of barriers between us and Great Britain.

“But we do recognise that we are on an island, as I’ve said, we recognise the unique history and geography of the place, where we live and I am down here to celebrate a bit of that tonight.”

Ms Foster also said there are institutions under the Good Friday Agreement that are underused, including the British-Irish Council, that need to be restored. She declined to be drawn on what role a restored Stormont Executive and Assembly could have in any future Brexit deal.

The DUP leader said there are no unionist MLAs who support the backstop at present “so therefore there is a need to find a way forward which everyone can buy into” citing the Belfast Agreement and the need for consent from both nationalists and unionists.

Asked why she was not meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on her visit to Dublin, Ms Foster said: “I don’t know, you have to ask the Taoiseach.”

She added: “He may well meet me very soon.”

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