BELFAST — The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party — which is propping up Theresa May’s government in Westminster — has told European leaders she does not support trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Arlene Foster is expected to tell her party, which met for its one-day annual conference on the outskirts of Belfast on Saturday, that she had written to the EU27 leaders to share her views.
The DUP wants a “sensible Brexit,” but will not support any suggestion that Northern Ireland should mirror European Union regulations unlike the rest of the U.K., Foster is expected to say, according to a pre-released copy her speech.
Foster will also use her speech to warn the Irish nationalist political party Sinn Féin that it is time it “got serious” in talks to reestablish the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Northern Ireland’s devolved government collapsed in January, when Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for Foster to step aside to allow an investigation into a botched renewable scheme predicted to cost the Northern Irish exchequer as much as £490 million (its total annual budget is around £10 billion). In subsequent elections, Sinn Féin finished one seat behind the DUP.
Northern Ireland could not continue without ministers, Foster is due to say.
“Time is short and those in Sinn Féin blocking the restoration of local decision-making need to decide whether they want to do business with us or have direct rule ministers in place,” she will say.
She is also expected to say her party will conclude a “balanced deal,” but will “not be party to a one-sided arrangement that rewards intransigent behavior.”
After winning 10 seats at the Westminster election in June, the DUP entered into a confidence and supply agreement with the U.K. government to keep the Conservative Party in power.
As part of the agreement, it established a two-year £1-billion extra funding deal for Northern Ireland with May’s Conservatives.
In an earlier speech, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds reiterated the deal with the Conservatives would last “for the entire parliament” — which is expected to be five years.
But he hinted at the prospect of more concessions for Northern Ireland, saying the party had “started the process of determining what will bring success, security and prosperity to the U.K. and Northern Ireland in the second half of the parliament.”