Leading food industry sources in Northern Ireland have welcomed the involvement of the DUP in the Brexit crisis talks, suggesting a deal would make a soft border with Europe more likely.
Talks were held in Downing Street today between PM Theresa May and DUP leader Arlene Foster, with the Conservatives seeking a deal to enable the minority government to function. Food and drink leaders in Northern Ireland attacked media representations of the party as “lightweights and madmen”.
Sources who said they expected to be involved in talks with the new Conservative/DUP collaboration being thrashed out in Westminster, said the Ulster politicians brought with them a strong understanding of the Northern Irish economy’s reliance on the food industry and a determination to avoid a ‘hard Brexit’.
“I’m sure the DUP will contribute to stability, which is what we desperately need,” said one leading source.
“They are very strong on the economy. They are very aware of the sensitivity of Northern Ireland, in particular to agrifood.”
The source said the results of today’s negotiations were likely to hinge on a deal for the DUP to support Brexit talks in return for investment in areas including the food & drink industry.
“Fifty-five per cent of cross-border trade is agrifood and the DUP understands that. They don’t want a hard border,” said the source. “They are pragmatists.”
One of the DUP’s key policies is to maintain a “seamless, frictionless” border with the Republic of Ireland.
“These are not lightweight politicians, these are very tough people,” added the source.
“The media are portraying them as somewhat weak and mad. There will be none of that agenda, things like abortion and gay marriage. I would suggest the only thing they will be interested in is the economy, jobs and stability.”