Northern Ireland Minister Baker says DUP 'pressurised by small number of hardliners'

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker.
Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker.

The DUP is being pressurised by a small number of hardliners to stay out of the Stormont Assembly, Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker has said.

He was speaking as a major investment conference got underway in Belfast to promote the benefits of business in Northern Ireland.

The minister said businesses wanted to invest in the region.

He said the absence of power sharing would not spoil the conference and the private sector in Northern Ireland "flourishes despite its politicians".

And, asked about the irony of an ardent Brexiteer hailing NI's access to the EU market he said they had to make the best of the situation and that leaving in place some EU regulation was a a "hard compromise from a purist Eurosceptic and unionist point of view, including for me, but I’m not going to let that stop me making the most of it for Northern Ireland".

The DUP said briefings on claims of progress had to stop and delivery to begin.

Mr Baker said: “I think realistically where we are with the DUP is in the final stages of them letting us know what they need. “But what I think I see is that a small number of really important opinion formers, who shape what the DUP does, are now really steering the life of Northern Ireland to a degree which is not really consistent with their status as unelected figures who express opinion and put pressure on the DUP. “I would say to them and to everyone else, we now need to think really seriously about which futures are available and anyone as an opinion former who is now putting pressure on the DUP to stay out of government, they really need to ask themselves what they are trying to achieve. “The EU is not going to reopen the Windsor Framework, this was the best we could do. I have been honest and open from that from the purist unionist or Eurosceptic point of view, it’s our compromise. “But I’ve also been honest and open, we have got investors converging on Northern Ireland in a spirit of good will, wanting to invest. We have talked about how Northern Ireland is going to be in a unique place in all the world to take advantage of it. “So what I’d say to, for want of a better term, hardline unionist opinion formers, please think about the best interests of Northern Ireland. If you want Northern Ireland in the union, it’s going to need a government, so please give it that government.” Steve Baker said the absence of a functioning Stormont Assembly for the investment conference was a disappointment, but insisted it will not dampen the occasion.

“We would love of course to have a First Minister and a deputy First Minister here, joining me, joining the Secretary of State and others promoting Northern Ireland, of course we would, it’s a bit of a disappointment but I’m not going to let that dampen the occasion,” he told media during a visit to Ionic Technologies in Belfast. “You can feel the energy and enthusiasm here behind me, and all of the investors coming over are coming for a reason – they want to invest in Northern Ireland. They’re not coming because they want to say no, they’re coming because they want to say yes. “So what I’m not going to do is let that spoil our prospects here for the summit, it’s going to be a great occasion.” He added: “The reality is that Northern Ireland has got an amazing private sector despite the instability of its politics. Twenty-five years on after the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement we know we’ve got peace, but what we haven’t had is a sufficiently stable government, and people are aware of that, yet Northern Ireland’s private sector is amazing, full of people able to flourish and innovate, and do right by their communities and the environment, and people do it very naturally here. “We’ve got so much to be proud of but if you’re asking would it be better if the Government was back, yes of course it would but the private sector flourishes anyway.”

Asked whether as a committed Brexiteer he finds it ironic that Northern Ireland’s direct access to the EU market will be trumpeted at this week’s investment conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker responded: “Of course as a Brexiteer I can see that people will accuse us of it being ironic, but look, we have got to make the best of the situation we face. “As I’ve said several times, I recognise that leaving in place just enough EU law to deliver that infrastructure-free border is a hard compromise from a purist Eurosceptic and unionist point of view, including for me, but I’m not going to let that stop me making the most of it for Northern Ireland. “Northern Ireland will be under UK services regulation, will have access to our free trade agreements, access to the UK market as of right, with privileged access to the EU market. That’s unrivalled anywhere, you can’t get that in the EU. “So alright if people want to rub my nose in it, let them, I think I have demonstrated I can eat a bit of humble pie but I want Northern Ireland to flourish and I’m going to put heart and soul into making that happen.”

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell has said its time for briefings on claims of progress towards removing the Irish Sea border to stop, and delivery to begin.

He said: “Over the past few weeks Downing Street has been repeatedly briefing the media that significant or substantial progress has been made in order to achieve what they, and we, have said needs to be achieved; frictionless trade within the United Kingdom and the Irish Sea border removed.

"For weeks back in the Spring they claimed they were unsure of what precisely we wanted, despite being repeatedly told. This led to us providing the Government with a paper which they have been looking at for several months.

"The time has come for briefing designed to pressurise us to stop and delivery on what they have repeatedly promised, to happen.”

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