DUP MEP Diane Dodds has said voting for her party at the upcoming European election will “help strengthen Northern Ireland’s hand” in the future Brexit negotiations.
Mrs Dodds, who has been an MEP since 2009, was ratified as the DUP’s candidate at a meeting of the party’s executive last week.
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, she urged voters to go to the polls next month.
She added: “I would say to those out there who are thinking what is the point of another European election, I want people to give us their vote to strengthen our hand in the negotiations that will follow this election, to make sure NI is respected and the result of the referendum is also respected.”
Mrs Dodds said that while it has been “one of the greatest privileges” of her life to represent NI at the European Parliament, she added: “It has also been a huge responsibility”.
She stated that the DUP did not want to see the UK leaving without a deal, adding: “We want to leave in a structured and ordered way.
“I often say we are leaving the political institutions of Europe, but we are not leaving Europe. Europe will always continue to be an important trading and security partner.
“We should be leaving in a way that allows us to have access to the single market, to work alongside our neighbours, to continue to develop our links with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.”
But she reiterated the party’s opposition to the current withdrawal agreement and the Irish border backstop, adding: “We believe is bad for NI economically as it will cut us off from our biggest market in GB.”
When asked if the constitutional status of NI post-Brexit was the most important consideration for her party, Mrs Dodds replied: “I believe first and foremost as a unionist that the union that really matters to me is the one of GB and NI. But also I believe as a realistic, practical person, someone who has engaged with business right across NI, that access to our main market is absolutely vitally important for the success of NI going forward.
“I met (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier last week and told him we wanted to leave with a deal, but the impediment to a deal is the backstop. He needs to use the time (from the latest Brexit extension) to deal with the backstop, and deal with the constitutional and economic implications of it, not just for NI but fior the whole of the UK.”