Arlene Foster had harsh words for Boris Johnson for breaking his promise over protecting the integrity of the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party said that government officials had told her there would need to be customs checks between the two, despite the prime minister’s continued public insistence that there will be a frictionless border.
Saying that she will still work with any prime minister who will work for a good deal for Northern Ireland, she reportedly said: “Once bitten, twice shy” about how Johnson broke his word.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she was asked about a sense of “betrayal” among unionists over the issue.
She replied: “I think it is right for the leadership of unionism in Northern Ireland to try to work with the prime minister of the day to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.
“We will always do that. We will continue to do that. I think it says more about the person who broke their word than me and the leadership of the … Democratic Unionist Party.”
A lack of free-flowing trade would cause “economic instability in Northern Ireland, which will lead to higher costs for retailers which will lead to less choice for our consumers in Northern Ireland”, said Foster.
“And all of that leads me to say that we need to – after this election is over, and I’m not prejudging the election in any one way, every vote will count – but what is important is that we have a strong team of DUP MPs back in Westminster to speak up for Northern Ireland.”
Asked if she now trusts Johnson to keep his word in future, she said: “Well, once bitten, twice shy. We will certainly be looking into the detail of what this is going to look like.”
The question of a frictionless border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was raised afresh after Labour released leaked Treasury documents that warn of customs checks and possible tariffs on goods travelling between the two locations.
On Sunday morning, Johnson denied this would be the case, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show that the report is “wrong” and that Northern Ireland will have “unfettered access” to the UK market.
His continued promise to have the UK leave the EU and to have a completed trade deal with the bloc within the following 11 months has been cast into doubt by a Whitehall report seen by the Financial Times, which says putting the necessary infrastructure to ensure a seamless border in time is a “major … challenge”.
A Department for Exiting the European Union document, according to the FT, states that: “Delivery of the required infrastructure, associated systems, and staffing to implement the requirements of the (Northern Ireland) protocol by December 2020 represents a major strategic, political and operational challenge.”