EU ambassador to UK says contact will continue with DUP ‘whoever the leader is’

Helen William, PA
·3-min read

The European Union’s ambassador to the UK has said that contact will continue to be made with the DUP “whoever the leader is”.

Joao Vale de Almeida was speaking at an Institute for Government event as Arlene Foster announced her resignation as DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland.

On the prospect that her resignation may bring new strains to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, he said: “I don’t want to interfere in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom or of Northern Ireland and, even less so, the internal matters of the DUP.

“We have had a good dialogue and a good relationship with Arlene Foster. In different moments, she has been part of many meetings where we discussed the (Northern Ireland) protocol.”

He added: “I have had good contacts with the DUP leadership under different representatives, so we will continue to talk to the DUP whoever the leader is.”

Mrs Foster said she will stand down as party leader on May 28 and as First Minister at the end of June.

The announcement comes 24 hours after a sizeable internal heave against her by DUP politicians unhappy with her leadership.

Earlier this year, the UK Government refused to give Mr Vale de Almeida the same status as national ambassadors.

The ambassador said that discussions are still taking place and he is “confident that we will find a solution that is in line with international practice”.

He added: “It is about recognition. It is about respect. It is about the formalities of diplomatic life and that is an important aspect.

“I am very hopeful that we can soon come to an understanding on how to organise this diplomatic side of our relationship.

“Once that is the case, we will be in a better position to contribute to a constructive relationship.”

Mr Vale de Almeida said that both himself and Brussels are being “extremely attentive” to the situation in Northern Ireland along with questions about whether the protocol is sustainable and how the EU and the UK are going to reach a solution.

He described the Good Friday Agreement as at “the top of our concerns” and stressed a commitment to its success.

The ambassador said: “I want to be very clear about one point – the protocol is not the problem.

“The problem is Brexit and the shape of Brexit and the impact it had on Northern Ireland.

“Everybody knew from the referendum and the choices made to leave the single market and the customs union that Northern Ireland would be the most difficult and most intricate issue to be solved.”

Mr Vale de Almeida said he is aware that the Northern Ireland situation is “sensitive”.

He noted: “We don’t want to create problems where we don’t need to create problems but you have to understand that we have to manage a situation which was not created by us but there is an impact in our own single market so we need to look at that.

“Our main purpose remains peace, reconciliation, stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland. Whatever we can do to contribute to that, we will do.”