Northern Ireland’s place in the UK secure despite opposition to Brexit, says Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster
First Minister Arlene Foster

Stormont’s First Minister has insisted Northern Ireland’s place in the Brexiting UK is safe despite the region voting for Remain.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster, who campaigned for an EU exit, said she was “absolutely certain” the constitutional status was secure and claimed the Union was stronger after the Leave vote.

Her comments come after Sinn Fein, the DUP’s partners in the power-sharing government, said the result of the referendum should trigger a border poll.

In Northern Ireland 440,707 (56%) people voted to Remain and 349,442 (44%) to Leave.

Of the region’s 18 constituencies, 11 voted Remain and seven voted Leave.

A border poll can only be called by the region’s Secretary of State in circumstances where there is clear evidence of a public opinion swing towards Irish unity.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she did not believe the criteria for triggering a border poll had been met.

Mrs Foster rejected the Sinn Fein demand, saying: “The call for a border poll was as predictable as the flowers in May.

“We knew it would come but the test has not been met so therefore I don’t believe it will happen.”

The DUP leader added: “I think we are now entering a new era of an even stronger United Kingdom.

“I am very much looking forward to working with our colleagues in our national government to build a very strong, outward-looking UK moving forward and of course Northern Ireland as a very key constituent part of that.”

The renewed focus on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position comes as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a second referendum on Scottish independence was “highly likely”.

Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the people of Northern Ireland must have a say on their own future.

The Sinn Fein veteran said the region is in “unchartered waters” and he would seek “urgent” talks with the Irish and Scottish governments and EU institutions on “how we move forward in the best interests of all of our people”.

“This decision to drag us out of the European Union against our democratically expressed wishes has nothing to do with issues around the European institutions and everything to do with the civil war within the British Tory party,” he said.

“The people of the north of Ireland - nationalists, republicans, unionists and others - have made it clear at the polls that they wish to remain in the EU.

“The British Government now need to take account of that and recognise that reality and allow the people of the north to have their say on their own future.

“Dragging us out of Europe will be to the detriment of all our citizens and will be bad for business, trade, investment and wider society.”