Baroness Arlene Foster has backed the deal her successor has secured with the British government, accusing unionist opponents of “the usual stereotypical reaction”.
The former DUP leader said she hoped the measures secured by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson would allow “Northern Ireland to work within the UK”.
Writing in the Express, the one-time first minister-turned-GB News presenter said the seven tests laid out in the DUP’s 2022 assembly election manifesto were “contrary to some commentary... there to judge any deal against”.
“The seven tests were not sacrosanct but were to help the party make a judgement on any proposed deal,” she said.
“When the details of the deal are revealed by the government, we will all see how those tests measure up, but if the internal market of the UK is opened up without artificial borders, then that will be a very good starting point for fulfilling the tests.”
Baroness Foster, who was part of the panel headed by Peter Robinson which last year canvassed unionist opinion on the Windsor Framework, said Rishi Sunak had “oversold” the deal agreed with the EU last February.
“It has taken ten more months of negotiation by the DUP to come up with a better deal which allows devolution to return and the promise of the Act of Union to be fulfilled, that is the internal market of the United Kingdom,” she said.
The former DUP leader, who was unceremoniously ousted by party rivals in 2021, said her successor had “been careful not to fall into the trap of overselling the deal” but that Sir Jeffrey “has a fine balance to keep because he also wants to point out the positives which he has achieved with the UK government”.
She accused the opponents of power-sharing of rejecting the deal before seeing its detail.
“For some in Northern Ireland, the usual stereotypical reaction has been that it is a sell-out,” she said.
Baroness Foster accused Sinn Féin of “dog whistle politics” after leader Mary Lou McDonald said earlier this week that a united Ireland was “within touching distance”.
“This poking of unionism in the eye will continue over the next while as Sinn Féin try to steady their activists,” she said.
“Watch how they declare the historic nature of Michelle O’Neill becoming first minister of the north (they can’t say Northern Ireland as they would go up in flames if they did).
“The reality is off course that she is in a joint office with whoever the DUP put forward as deputy first minister and cannot act without joint agreement on decisions.”