July 14, 2023 - 12:30pm

Former first minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster has said her biggest regret is not bringing down Theresa May’s government over her proposed Brexit deal. The admission came in an interview with UnHerd’s podcast These Times, in which Foster discusses her time as first minister during which she signed a confidence and supply agreement to keep the Conservative Party in power after the 2017 general election. 

In the interview, Foster rejects the idea that she should have accepted May’s “soft” Brexit deal, in which the whole of the UK — including Northern Ireland — would have remained in a customs union with the EU, thereby avoiding some of the most invasive border checks now required to manage trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the so-called “protocol”. 

Instead, the Baroness says the real lesson she has taken away from her time in office is that she was not hard enough with the UK government from the beginning, failing both to secure a role for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the Brexit negotiations and to pull the plug on the confidence and supply agreement when it became clear May intended to permanently bind Northern Ireland to EU single market rules.

Foster’s reflections on her time in office were part of a wide-ranging interview in which she also spoke openly for the first time about the DUP rebellion that forced her from power in 2021, naming Edwin Poots and Ian Paisley Jr as the “ringleaders” of the plot. The interview also covered her time growing up in Fermanagh during the Troubles, when the IRA attempted to murder her father in what Foster said was a form of ethnic cleansing from Republican terrorists trying to create a “Brit-free zone” along the border with the Republic.

In the interview Foster also argues that:

  • Northern Ireland should never have been given its own parliament and would today be better off had it simply remained a normal part of the UK without devolved government in 1922.
  • People on the mainland are too “glib” about the demands placed on unionists in Northern Ireland to share power with Republicans, some of whom committed terrorist attacks.
  • Sinn Fein is still not being honest about the sectarian nature of the IRA’s terror campaign during the Troubles, which is holding back peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
  • That she was removed from power, in part, because of her Anglicanism, her relative liberalism and the fact that she is a woman. 

The interview is available in full here.