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Naomi Long labels DUP Brexit strategy a 'massive act of self-harm'

Naomi Long said the DUP had aligned itself with the 'extremists' of the European Research Group. Picture by Mal McCann

NAOMI Long has described the DUP's Brexit strategy as a "massive act of self-harm and completely ill-judged".

The Alliance leader said Arlene Foster's party was now being driven by its 10 MPs, who she claimed had become aligned with "extremists" and "slightly giddy" at the attention Westminster's finely-poised arithmetic had brought upon them.

The DUP was the only one of Stormont's main parties to back the Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum and in recent months has opposed Theresa May's withdrawal agreement on the basis that it includes a backstop guaranteeing a frictionless border. The party has faced criticism from the farming lobby and business groups for its opposition to the backstop.

Earlier this week, former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Brexit could turn out to be unionism's "biggest own goal" because it has reignited debate around the region's constitutional status.

Speaking ahead of her party's annual conference on Saturday, Mrs Long told The Irish News that the DUP had "alienated" civic unionists and the centre ground, while ignoring the concerns of its core constituencies.

The East Belfast MLA said she detected a recent softening of tone on Brexit from Mrs Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, but believes they may have already done irreparable damage to their party and the union.

Read More: Shelve assembly and stop MLAs' pay if Stormont talks fail: Naomi Long

"They say they are passionate about seeing Northern Ireland remain part of the UK in perpetuity, and yet what they have done with Brexit is to put the Irish border question firmly back, front and centre of our political dynamics here," she said.

Mrs Long said the DUP's MPs, who she argues were less "collaborative" than their Stormont counterparts, had been "wooed by extremists in the the ERG (European Research Group)", which she characterised as "English nationalists".

A picture posted on Twitter by Ian Paisley (right) of leading Leave campaigner Arron Banks (second left), Sammy Wilson (second right) and Andy Wigmore, director of communications for Leave.EU

"Because they are being lauded by them (the ERG) they feel they are achieving some uber-British status but the reality is that they are placing Northern Ireland's future within the United Kingdom at risk," she said, pointing to recent polls which showed Brexit had prompted many traditional unionist voters to shift their position to "undecided" on the constitutional question.

"How can that be in long-term interests of someone who claims to be unionist?" she said.

"And yet they (the DUP) blindly slipstream behind the most extreme views in parliament, instead of listening carefully to what their own electorate are saying – the farmers, businesspeople – those who would have traditionally been seen as their core constituency."

Mrs Long said the divergence in opinion over Brexit between the DUP and groups it was traditionally supportive of could cause lasting damage to the party's reputation.

"I'm not sure that once that genie is out of the bottle it can be put back in," she said.

A DUP spokesman said a majority of people in the UK voted to leave the EU and that the result should be respected.

“We have been working for a sensible deal which works for the entire UK and our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland,” he said. 

“Naomi’s comments are a distraction rather than constructive.”

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