The Democratic Unionists have welcomed the “substantial progress” achieved in the agreement between the UK and EU, but cautioned that much more work was needed on managing the Irish border post-Brexit.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party worked with the Government into the early hours of this morning to secure changes to the original text it rejected on Monday.
Mrs Foster said Northern Ireland would now leave the single market and customs union and insisted there would be no border down the Irish sea, dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
“There will be no so-called ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland as demanded by Sinn Fein,” she said.
Mrs Foster added: “Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom, and the joint UK-EU report at the conclusion of phase one makes clear that in all circumstances the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.”
The DUP leader made clear there was “still more work to be done”.
She said more focus was needed on the areas of potential future alignment with the Irish Republic and how that could be achieved outside of the single market and customs union.
“We do, however, welcome the assurance given by the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary in Parliament that any alignment will be done on a UK-wide basis, ensuring that there would be no barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and our most important market in the rest of the UK,” Mrs Foster added.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA raised concern the paper could have “pre-judged” the debate in the UK on the nature of regulatory alignment with the EU required post-Brexit.
“We cautioned the Prime Minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form given the issues which still need to be resolved and the views expressed to us by many of her own party colleagues,” she said.
“However, it was ultimately a matter for the Prime Minister to decide how she chose to proceed.
“We will play a full part with the Government in the second stage of the negotiations on a comprehensive trade deal. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and how we vote on the final deal will depend on its contents.
“Along with like-minded colleagues across the House of Commons, we will ensure that there is no backsliding on the promises made about the integrity of the Union.
“We will also work to ensure that the United Kingdom as a whole exits the European Union in a way that is of the greatest benefit to our prosperity and freedom.”
Mrs Foster said the DUP’s “guiding principle” was to act in the national interest to ensure the “constitutional and economic integrity” of the UK was not compromised as a result of Brexit.
“The Democratic Unionist Party has always been clear that the Union that matters most to Northern Ireland is that of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” she added.