Arlene Foster has insisted that she does not support the Northern Ireland Protocol despite suggesting that it would make the country a great location for businesses.
he first minister told the Assembly in December that she did not like the protocol but said Northern Ireland will take “any benefits that flow from it”.
As part of the Withdrawal Agreement, the protocol sees checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, creating a de facto Irish Sea border – something which has angered unionists.
Speaking on BBC’s The View on Thursday, Mrs Foster was pressed on her apparent support for the protocol. She said the “dynamic has completely changed” when questioned on her comments in the Assembly in December.
The DUP leader stated that the EU’s ill-fated attempt to use Article 16 last week to block vaccines entering Northern Ireland was going to damage the public and others in the UK.
Article 16 allows either side to disregard certain measures of the Withdrawal Agreement should they feel it is causing major problems.
Mrs Foster also insisted she was referring to Brexit and not the protocol when she talked of a “gateway of opportunity” on the Andrew Marr Show in January.
“I said that Brexit was a gateway to opportunity and that the important thing is – I told the Prime Minister – that actually the gateway to opportunity for Northern Ireland has been closed because of the protocol,” she said.
“I told him that as late as just yesterday so we need to deal with the protocol, we need to scrap the protocol and we need to get back to dealing with the fact that as part of the United Kingdom, we are entitled to the same trade as the rest of the UK citizens.”
During Assembly oral questions to the Executive Office on December 14, Mrs Foster said: “Businesses are asking for access to their main market in Great Britain, and to make sure that they get their goods over from Great Britain into Northern Ireland as well.
“That is, of course, my priority, and to make sure that we use my good office to do that.
“Of course, we will take any benefits that flow from the protocol.
“It has been a very difficult period for us all around this, and it is important to look at access to UK trade deals.
“Those deals are now beginning to become a reality, and it is very important that we have full access to those trade deals.
“That is part of the ongoing work to ensure that we have access to those trade deals.”
Meanwhile, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell said the blame of the protocol should be laid at the feet of Boris Johnson and Brexit.
He added that the DUP have paid a high price for putting their faith into the Prime Minister.
“They didn’t see the danger for themselves that Boris Johnson might ditch what they wanted and opt for a completely different approach at the last minute in the Brexit negotiations,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show.
“They are not the first group of people that Boris Johnson has left at the altar and they won’t be the last but they have paid a very high price for it.”