The Ulster Unionists issued a statement on Thursday questioning “whether the penny has finally dropped with the DUP over the impact Brexit will have on Northern Ireland”.
It followed a statement released on Wednesday night, shortly after the contents of Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness’ joint letter emerged, in which the UUP said it was “stunned” that the two governing party leaders had the “audacity” to release the letter.
Thursday’s statement, in the name of Philip Smith – MLA for Strangford – said: “Issues the UUP highlighted during the EU referendum campaign which the DUP dismissed as scare-mongering are now accepted as key areas for concern.
“Looking at the issues raised in the letter to the Prime Minister around free movement, access to the single market, the impact on the agri-food sector and loss of EU funds, it would appear the First Ministers are proposing an ‘I can’t believe it’s not the EU’ model.”
He added that it exposed “the lack of pre-Brexit planning on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive”.
Prior to the referendum, the News Letter had reported that the Province’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had drawn up no continguency plan in the event of an EU exit, despite the farming industry depending on CAP subsidies worth billions of Euro over several years (from 2007 to 2013, about 3.5bn was set aside for CAP payments to Northern Irish farmers).
Mr Smith added; “I welcome the First Ministers’ acceptance of the reality of Brexit and its implications for Northern Ireland if current levels of EU funding cannot be replicated from Westminster and continued access to EU markets secured.
“But why has this conv ersion taken until now and why did the DUP gloss over these major issues during their campaign?
“Even though she got the result she wanted, Arlene Foster was caught like a rabbit in the headlights on this and has been acting like the First Minister for Tetchiness ever since.”
The Green Party leader Steven Agnew said on Thursday: “I am astonished that the First Minister is now outlining many of the reasons why the Green Party campaigned to remain in the UK.
“The First Minister accused those who favoured a remain vote of fearmongering when we outlined our concerns of what an exit from the EU would bring.”
Meanwhile, the SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said: “While we agree with the points made in the letter it is frustrating that OFMDFM did not acknowledge and campaign on these issues prior to the referendum.
“The letter reads like a pro-remain information leaflet. Indeed, the SDLP campaigned on every one of these issues - particularly on the border, avoiding labour shortages and the loss of EU funding - and the DUP dismissed us at every turn...
“The First Minister has serious questions to answer over the breath-taking reverse ferret she is currently performing. Ms Foster has clearly realised the error of her ways in backing Brexit and now the horse has bolted, is asking the Conservative Government to close the gate.”