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The DUP is 'ready' for an election, says Arlene Foster

The DUP conference took place in Belfast today.

Arlene Foster used her speech to issue a warning to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Arlene Foster used her speech to issue a warning to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Image: Michael Cooper/PA Wire/PA Images

ARLENE FOSTER HAS told the Democratic Unionist Party conference today that her party is ready for an election. 

“There is much talk about the holding of a general election,” she said this afternoon. “This party is ready for any general election that may come.”

But Foster, who was cheered as she took to the stage, did not explicitly say that the party would be backing a 12 December election tomorrow when UK prime minister Johnson brings a motion to parliament tomorrow. 

Earlier, she had indicated that her party had misgivings about the time Johnson was suggesting for scrutiny of the withdrawal agreement bill.

Johnson, who was a star of the conference last year, was a frequent target of speakers today. 

Earlier this afternoon, deputy leader Nigel Dodds had issued a sharp warning to Johnson: “Stick to your word.”

Foster opened her speech with a joke at Johnson’s expense, telling delegates that “rather than have Boris with us today we have had to send him to the naughty step in Parliament twice in the last week”.

In recent days, the party’s votes have proved crucial in defeating Johnson’s government and forcing the UK into an extension. 

After a somewhat muted start to the day, Foster told delegates that it was a “momentous” time. 

“I believe that future generations will look back and recognise these days as a defining time, where the choices we made shaped their future,” she said. 

The last few weeks have been turbulent for the DUP. Aside from Johnson’s deal proving unacceptable to the party, it has also been forced to watch as same-sex marriage has been legalised and abortion decriminalised in Northern Ireland. 

Promising to protect the “sanctity of life”, Foster said that “we will continue to work with all those who believe that both lives matter”.

The main focus of her speech was on Brexit and the party’s role in securing the future of the UK. 

“On Brexit, we will not give support to the government when we believe that they are fundamentally wrong and acting in a way that is detrimental to Northern Ireland,” she said. 

“We will oppose them and we will use our votes to oppose them.”

Foster did seem to reach out for a reconciliation on the controversial issue of an Irish language act – one of the divisions that has proved a barrier to the restoration of power-sharing in the North. 

“If we can find a way to craft language and culture laws that facilitates those who speak the language, but does not inappropriately infringe on or threaten others, the DUP will not be found wanting,” she said, joking that some people in the room might even speak Irish. 

Indeed, Foster combined attacks on Sinn Féin with a plea for unionism to look beyond its traditional base. “Unionism should be inclusive, welcoming and embracing to all. It should permit individuals to express the cultural life as they choose.”

dup-conference-2019 Nigel Dodds speaking at the DUP party conference. Source: Michael Cooper/PA Wire/PA Images

Foster used the speech, coming just months before the centenary of Northern Ireland, to call for the region to get “moving again”. 

She said she wanted a future where there were no “winners and losers” but “everyone putting their best foot forward to provide a brighter future for all”. 

Next steps

With the prospect of both a long Brexit extension and an election looming, the party used the conference to stress the power of the DUP in parliament. 

“Today, I give clear notice that going forward the Democratic Unionist Party will look at every proposal, every legislative provision and amendment through one prim and one prism only. How does this best protect the union?” Dodds told delegates earlier this afternoon. 

“The quest to deliver Brexit can be complete with our votes,” he said. 

All eyes will now turn towards the House of Commons on Monday, where the votes of the DUP will prove crucial in determining both whether the UK has an election in 2019 and whether Johnson can get his withdrawal agreement bill through parliament safely. 

Earlier today, one of the party’s youngest MPs Emma Little-Pengelly warned delegates of the danger of the party being painted as backwards. 

“Perhaps, too often, we play into our enemies hands,” she said. “I know that we are not a party of hate, or bigotry, or backwardness. I know we are a party of passion and compassion.”

The party has committed to opposing Johnson’s deal in parliament, making the DUP unlikely allies with Labour and the Scottish National Party. 

“Our aim is to build a nation of Remainers across every part of Northern Ireland,” Little-Pengelly told the audience as she warned members that the North must fight to remain in the UK. 

With reporting from Press Association

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