Arlene Foster would be 'concerned' if plans for exiting EU had been finalised

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

Northern Ireland's First Minister has said she would be "concerned" if plans for exiting the European Union had been finalised.

Arlene Foster told Stormont Assembly members she would not expect or want the UK Government to adopt a position until all the options - including implications for Northern Ireland - had been considered.

She said: "It should be no surprise to anyone that the UK has not yet finalised its plans for leaving the EU, indeed if they had I would be concerned, given that they are in detailed discussions with us to help shape the plan.

"They are still at the information-gathering and analysis stage which is a huge task covering many areas of government.

"We are currently feeding our own assessment of the issues into this process through the Joint Ministerial Committee and extensive bi-lateral engagement between officials."

Mrs Foster was speaking during Question Time at the Assembly.

Reference was also made to the page of Brexit notes caught on camera at Westminster which have prompted fresh accusations that UK ministers have no strategy for Brexit.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: "Unfortunately it appears any journalist with a good camera can get a good insight into the Brexit stance of what the UK Government is at the moment."

Opposition leader Mike Nesbitt asked whether it was practical to adopt a policy of "having cake and eating cake".

However, Mrs Foster, whose Democratic Unionist Party campaigned for a leave vote, said Northern Ireland should be "leading the way" in terms of ambition after the withdrawal.

She also expressed satisfaction with the level of engagement with Westminster on the issue.

The majority of people in Northern Ireland, 56%, voted to remain in the EU during the June referendum.

However, Mrs Foster played down warnings from business and agriculture leaders, to insist that the region would be stronger, post Brexit.

Reiterating remarks made at the DUP conference, she said: "Other people might want to talk down what has happened.

"I see it as a tremendous opportunity for Northern Ireland. It is a chance to be innovative, it is a chance to be flexible, it is a chance to lead Northern Ireland in terms of being in an open, welcoming, regional part of the UK.

"It is a chance to go across the world and look for new trade deals. It is a chance to give our fishermen more flexibility.

"I do think this is an opportunity to be welcomed.

"There will be short-term challenges, I have never shied away from that, but I think in the medium to longer term we will be in a much stronger and better place."