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Arlene Foster's major political risk

IT is worth pointing out that if the joint statement issued by the pro-EU parties at Stormont in advance of the latest key round of Brexit negotiations had been tabled as an Assembly motion, it would have won the endorsement of a clear majority of MLAs.

While no-one is expecting the devolved institutions to return any time soon, the symbolism of the initiative by Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens was unmistakable.

They managed to set aside wider political differences in order to send out a firm message that a hard border was not an option in Ireland and the north needs to remain part of the single market and the customs union.

Their statement was equally insistent that a hard border had no place between the neighbouring islands and stressed: "This is critical to protecting investment, jobs, trade and the hard-won peace."

It represented a strongly positive development and many observers will regret that the same spirit of cooperation between the same parties was not in place to maximise the pro-EU vote in marginal constituencies during last year's UK general election.

It was striking to note the suggestion by Arlene Foster in London also on Monday that the difficulties over Brexit were caused by a `very aggressive' stance on the part of the Irish government.

Mrs Foster's analysis ignored the fact that Ireland is one of 27 EU member states who are in full agreement over the border issue and it is actually Theresa May who has been left struggling on the fringes of the debate.

The DUP leader is fully entitled to exploit the quirk of Westminster arithmetic which has left her 10 MPs propping up the minority Conservative administration, but she must also be aware that her favourable position there will inevitably be short-lived.

At some stage, if she has any serious aspirations to resume her former role as first minister, she knows that she will have to cut a deal with the non-unionist groups at Parliament Buildings

Instead, she delivered a London speech which was largely dismissive of the nationalist case and failed to address the compromises which will have to be made on all sides if power-sharing at Stormont is to have a viable future.

In aligning her prospects so closely to the pro-Brexit wing of a bitterly divided Tory party, Mrs Foster is taking what is by any standards a massive political risk.

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